Should 40-year-old athletics records be reviewed? | Sports
The track and field have been plagued with doping violations for several decades. Perhaps most notable is the 1980s, when several athletes were found to have used performance-enhancing drugs. During this period, the performances of the athletes were so good that they would still win medals today.
The explosion in performance has been accompanied by an improvement and justification of anti-doping strategies in sport. However, with advances in doping control, athletes still “evade” detection by various means. The “BALCO scandal” is an example of this, where designer steroids were used almost 20 years later.
It is not unreasonable to assume that athletes over the past decades have competed unfairly without sanctions. They must, however, be considered innocent until proven guilty.
VERY SPECIAL RECORDING
There is a very special record in sprints that has been much debated over the years, especially among Jamaicans. I am referring to the women’s 100m and 200m world record held by Florence Griffith-Joyner since 1988.
This record stood for 34 years, intact despite improvements in track quality, sportswear, training, sports medicine, psychology and research.
Although the athlete did not record times close to the record before her performances in 1988 and retired shortly after the record, just before the introduction of mandatory random drug testing, the record stands legal.
We should never assume guilt when it comes to doping, for the protection of innocent athletes.
There are, however, a few statistics that can fuel this debate.
LIST OF FILES
Here is a list of some of the records from the 1980s that still stand today.
100m – Florence Griffith Joyner – 1988
200m – Florence Griffith Joyner – 1988
800m – Jarmila Kratochvilova – 1983
4x800m relay – Soviet Union – 1984
4x800m Relay – Soviet Union – 1988
Heptathlon – Jackie Joyner-Kersee – 1988
Discus throw (women) – Gabriele Reinsch – 1988
Discus throw (men) – Jürgen Schult – 1986
Shot put – Natalya Lisovskaya – 1987
Long jump (women) – Galina Christyakova – 1988
Long jump (men) – Carl Lewis – 1984
High jump – Stefka Kostadinova – 1987
Hammer Throw – Yuriy Sedykh – 1986
It is a large concentration of documents, some of which are almost 40 years old. A survey of record trends indicates that we have yet to reach the pinnacle of human performance. However, we may be very close.
Looking at the men’s 100m record which was first ratified in 1912, we note that the world record then stood at 10.6 seconds. That time wouldn’t even be the fastest women’s time today.
In comparison, the first women’s 100 m record was ratified in 1922 and was a time of 13.6 seconds. These times are significantly slower than the times we are recording today. However, the trend is what is important.
In an article published in the sports magazine in 2019, the authors described the time it took to break the respective records. For men and women in track and field, the time it takes to break the record varies, but the majority of records are broken in less than 10 years and a significant number are broken in five years.
The records listed above are either anomalies that indicate that we have achieved near peak human performance in the respective discipline, or the records are invalid due to incorrect recording or undetected doping violations.
Either way, it is difficult to make this determination, so no recommendation can be made regarding the removal or review of these records. We just have to wait and see if our athletes can challenge them soon.
Although the statistics found an anomaly in the lifetime of these records, this does not indicate any justification for the anomaly.
Should recordings have an expiration date? If not, would we recognize a 100-year-old record? Would we be sure that the case was documented accurately and legally? Would we mind even if all these records were held by Jamaicans? These are questions to consider when evaluating these older documents.
We should never allow bias to cloud objectivity in our assessments. Consider an athlete who works hard to break a record legally. If that record is worth a thousand years, it is still a legitimate record that should be recognized until, if possible, a competitor can extend the mark.
There is a point where a man cannot throw farther, a point where a man cannot run faster, and a limit to human physical strength. If we have reached this point for a sports discipline, then we accept and move on.
Sport Pulse and Sport Matters are bi-monthly columns highlighting developments impacting sport. We look forward to your continued readership.
Dr. Aldeam Facey is a Lecturer and Head of Academic Programs and Activities at the Faculty of Sports at UWI. He can be contacted at [email protected]