With his 19 seconds 31, the American Noah Lyle came close to the time of Jamaican sprint legend Usain Bolt, who has held the world record since 2009 at 19 seconds 19. Another world record, even older, a near fall at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, United. States: Florence Griffith-Joyner, holder of the title since 1988 in 21 seconds 34. Jamaican Cherika Jackson placed only eleven hundredths off her time trial. Then gold, but not a world record. Neither one nor the other.
And for the last thirty years, it has become more and more difficult for them to fall both at 200 m and at other distances. With 9.8 seconds, Italian Marcel Jacobs won the 100 m on the track at the Tokyo Olympics on August 1, 2021. It is not enough to replace Usain Bolt there either: since 2008, no one has run faster than the Jamaican. No one… except himself, the following year: 9.58s, still unbeaten thirteen years later. The same scenario for women: the American Florence Griffith-Joiner has been unbeaten in both distances since 1988 with a time of 10.49 s in 100 m. In total, only 20 records fell at the Tokyo Olympics. ” Either no more than in previous editions, or even a little less notes Adriens Sedeaud, a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research and Sports Epidemiology (Irmes). Less and less records, and with few exceptions, got more and more ric-rac.
Chronos almost blocked
100m and 200m are no exception. South African Wade Van Niekerk won the 400 m race in 2016, just 0.15 seconds ahead of his predecessor, who has held the title for seventeen years. The women’s final time has not changed since 1985. In the men’s 110 m hurdles, it has been maintained since 2012…within 0.07 s. Dynamics similar to swimming: Brazilian Sézar Cielo won the men’s world record in 50 m freestyle in 2009 with an advantage of 0.03 s. What about the men’s high jump? Since 1960, no record has been broken by a distance greater than 1 cm. In the marathon, the last two records, men’s and women’s, beat the previous ones by a little more than 1 min.
There are still some exceptions… Norway’s Karsten Warholm broke his own world record by winning the 400m hurdles in 45.94 seconds in Tokyo. A mythical race: even the silver medalist broke the world record, and the third came very close. The problem: The amazing times could mostly be attributed to athletic shoes. They contain a carbon plate that provides a springy effect with each press. A scenario eerily reminiscent of the polyurethane swimsuit scenario. In 2008, they broke more than a hundred records – “ equivalent to twenty years of physiological progression notes the scientist. Thus, many of the great victories in athletics and swimming of the last decade have been due to equipment augmentation or even doping. “ The only factor that can still significantly increase the limits is technological innovation “, even regrets Adrien Marc, researcher of epidemiology and physiology at the National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance (Insep).
Wouldn’t we be able to improve our inner physical abilities because of that? Since the first modern Olympic Games, organized in 1896 in Athens, athletes and their teams have had plenty of time to adapt to the constraints of each event and determine the best strategies for preparation and recovery. “ We learned and played about physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, sleep: there’s really no room for improvement. When everything is optimized, trays will inevitably appear », explains Adrien Sedaud. In addition, the number of athletes has increased for a century. ” They grow, train better and better continues the researcher: a plateau of performance has thus mechanically been reached, as the potential of our species has already been optimized to its maximum.
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So much so that some records may never be broken again. Thus, Irmes’ work highlights a plateau in the performance of all athletics disciplines. In a paper published in 2008, they indicate that for half of them the world records in 2027 will not be improved by more than 0.05%. Until then, half of the records will no longer be broken and achieved, and the rest of the disciplines will follow. In another publication, they claim that out of 70 track and field events, 64% have not improved since 1993. A plateau that applies to both men’s and women’s disciplines. In most Olympic sports, the men came in last. Despite this delay, the dynamics are the same: the frequency of entries and the margin of progression decrease. ” In the Paralympics, there is more progress because there is less failure, but it ends up stagnating again “, notes Adrien Sedaud.
” Biologically, we as a species have internal limitations. We will never run at the top speed of a cheetahexplains Adrien Marks. The human body has structural and functional limits in all its scales – molecular, cellular, physiological… When all parts are already improved to the limit, the improvement possibilities approach zero.
Grab it again
” We still have room to improve. confirms Veronike Bilata, sports physiology researcher. Training methods haven’t changed that much in a century. We mainly increased the amount and added certain recovery methods like cryotherapy. According to the researcher, by paying more attention to athletes’ metabolism, oxygen consumption or even brain activity during exercise, it would be possible to achieve a few more records. A la carte training and preparation, perfectly adapted to the physiology of each athlete. “ Of course, I’m not saying there aren’t limits, but I don’t think we’re there yet “says Véronique Bilat. Adrien Sedot agrees: ” Indeed, it is possible that advances in research will reveal new frontiers of progress. “In disciplines like jumping or throwing, it takes a few seconds or centimeters, but a little more. ” Improvements often occur in almost milliseconds “, the specialist quips.
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” We tend towards the physiological limits of Homo sapiens “His colleague Adrien Mark slips. In terms of athletic performance, but also in other physiological aspects such as height or life expectancy. ” We compared these Olympic event plateaus with height and life expectancy and found that there are physiological ceilings there as well. “, emphasizes Adrien Sedaud. For a while, most children were on average taller than their parents. But for thirty years, this trend has been reversed. In terms of life expectancy, no one has exceeded the 122 years of Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997. We are in a finite world, so thinking about infinite records is counterintuitive », the researcher continues. Will there still be interest in watching the Olympic Games in twenty years? Not sure if any great shoes or wetsuits will see the light of day until then.
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