September 21, 2009

When Second Place is Newsworthy: Tyson Gay ran the second fastest 100m time ever at the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix meet on Sunday. Considering the dominance of Usain Bolt since Beijing, an American Record at 9.69s (same time as Bolt's WR gold medal win in Beijing) is worth posing the question: Are his competitors as far behind Bolt as we seem to think? Gay's performance on Sunday might suggest otherwise.

posted by Spitztengle to olympics at 11:39 PM - 4 comments

It seems to be the case that records have a significant psychological as well as physical element. When Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, he bested the previous record by 1.4 seconds- a record that had stood for about 11 years. Yet only 46 days after Bannister ran 3:59.4, an Australian runner named John Landy broke Bannister's record by an additional 1.4 seconds, with 3:57.9 (rounded to 3:58.0 due to track conditions).

As soon as Bannister broke that plateau, the mile time began dropping regularly, setting off a sequence where others starting lowering the mile time by a good second per year. Indeed, from 1915 to 1954, the mile time was lowered about 11.2 seconds in those 40 years. Over the next 13 years, the mile record would drop an additional 10.2 seconds.

It's almost like the best runners of the world needed proof that the 4-minute mile, or other record, can be broken- and then they all started doing it. Sort of like the , except without the paranormal element: once Usain shaved .11 off his time, other runners start matching- and probably soon breaking- the previous level he set.

Granted, Tyson just ran the best race of his life, while Usain's 9.69 was widely commented as having not been very efficient, leading him to shatter his own record a few months later. Heck, in that video I believe Asafa Powell was still leading by about halfway, before Gay put on a crazy burst of speed. Maybe in a little while Powell himself will drop below 9.69...

posted by hincandenza at 12:50 AM on September 22, 2009

an Australian runner named John Landy broke Bannister's record by an additional 1.4 seconds

Indeed. He did it with a hangover and without breakfast. Having just made it to the track by tram, Landy quickly wolfed down a meat pie, found the starting line and with no warm up just went out and ran.

Reminds me of the story of Usain Bolt in Beijing and his chicken nuggets. So much for scientific diets and modern nutrition!

posted by owlhouse at 01:23 AM on September 22, 2009

Yams and chicken nuggets. I'm starting a new diet tomorrow!

posted by dusted at 01:43 AM on September 22, 2009

I'm not sure I buy the notion of a psychological barrier in the 100m. The psychology of sprinters during the race is surely just "PEG IT!", unlike in any kind of distance running where you need to pace yourself and then push your body for longer than it wants to be pushed. I suspect a good sprinter doesn't think about anything at all when he runs, whereas over a mile, even in a record attempt when you've won the race by a distance, you need to think more or less constantly.

Also, the record for the mile dropped faster after Bannister broke the four minutes (at the track I'm about to walk past to get to work) not only because that psychological barrier disappeared, but also because track, shoe and overall fitness technology all started improving more rapidly around that time.

Now I'm late for work.


posted by JJ at 04:05 AM on September 22, 2009

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