Records across each and every sport and athletic discipline are being broken year after year. Arguments that humans are reaching the limits of our physical capabilities are undermined by the continuous expansion of what we perceive to be possible. However, this has several contributing factors including technology, mindset and specific populations within sports and not just because modern-day athletes themselves are superior.
Role of Technology
With the introduction of newer, more efficient, adapted equipment in pretty much every sport on the planet, it has undoubtedly made a difference to what humans can achieve. Surfaces for running are far more suited to their purpose compared to a century ago. For example, Usain Bolt propelled himself off a specifically designed carpet when he ran the world-record 100 metre time of 9.58 seconds. Jesse Owens who ran the same distance in 10.3 seconds about 70 years beforehand propelled himself off cinders which will have been far less efficient.
Similar to other professions, gutters on the side of swimming pools mean that there is less turbulence within the pool itself, allowing for less resistance as you swim. Faster and more productive bikes along with aerodynamic outfits have allowed cyclists to smash through old records with ease.
Technology has also assisted with training. Innovative ways of precisely analysing and fine-tuning techniques have allowed athletes to inch their way to world records.
Specific Gene Pools
Throughout the early 20th century, coaches and trainers held the view that there was an ideal type of body in terms of height and weight for all athletic pursuits in general. The average shot-putter and high-jumper were the same weight in the 1920s.
Nowadays, athletes are well adapted to their respective professions and coaches take into account body type. While long torsos and arms may be useful for a swimmer, a gymnasts tend to be smaller due to the need for an incredible strength to weight ratio and this shows quite clearly when it comes to elite level athletes and their body types.
As this artificial selection has occurred, athletes have become more suited to their discipline and thus, the standard has improved. Today, the average high-jumper is almost 3 inches shorter and over a 100 pounds lighter than the average professional shot-putter.
Popularity and Mindset
After Sir Roger Bannister ran a 4 minute mile back in 1954, hundreds of people have followed suit and done the same. When something is shown to be possible, others are spurred on to achieve the same if not better results. Inspire the mind and the body follows.
Athletes more than ever are encouraged to push themselves to the limit and due to the popularity of sports, there are an abundance of opportunities for athletes to focus on their sport full-time. Rather than fitting in training around a 9-5 job, more and more people are able to focus completely on their athletic pursuits. The improvement of sports medicine allows athletes to compete well into their 20s and 30s. This increased training time and career longevity inevitably leads to better results when it comes to performance.
Overall, if the circumstances were the same as 100 years ago, there wouldn’t actually be too much difference between today’s athletes and the athletes at the time. A better understanding of our bodies and the technicalities behind the sports we play has primarily led to the advancements we see in the sport world. With the improvements and broken records of more than a century of Olympic games, it’s a hot topic as to how much further athletes can push themselves physically with the support of technology.