In this month of October 2019, the marathon world seemed to have turned a corner, or broken a barrier – however you want to put it – with the first sub-2 hour marathon for men in Vienna, Austria and an 81-second world record for the women in Chicago, Illinois.
The first performance was somewhat expected having come on the heels of a very close, but eventually unsuccessful attempt two years ago in Monza, Italy. The successful second assault in Vienna was conducted like clockwork in a tightly controlled setting with pacers behind lasers that didn’t vary by more than four seconds per 5Km split on the repeatable route.
The second headline in Chicago came as something of a shock, considering the record it topped was already thought of as an outlier. But unlike the men’s sub-2 in Austria, the new women’s record in Illinois was run in a competitive setting (though without actual competition) led by two male pacers who went out way too hard yet managed to salvage the record at the end. Which leads one to believe there is more time to scrub from Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 with more consistent pacing, much less other tweaks, official or otherwise. And Kosgei herself has already posited a women’s 2:10 in the future, though for herself she set the limit at 2:12 – 2:13.
What both these performances had in common were the nationality of the two athletes, Kenyan, and the brand and model of shoes that were worn, Nike Vaporfly Next%, or prototypes built specifically for each.
And so after this seismic month of miraculous running, what’s next? Already the IAAF is looking into the legality of the shoes based on a protest lodged by several elite runners accusing the Nike Vaporflys of producing an unfair competitive advantage. Though there is an initial belief that the shoes will be found to be within proscribed limits.
In 1989, American Greg LeMond won the Tour de France by eight seconds over Frenchman Laurent Fignon, the previous two-time Tour winner.
The eight-second margin made it the closest finish in TDF history, as LeMond was trailing Fignon by fifty seconds at the start of the final stage into Paris, and was not expected to be able to make up this deficit. But he completed the 24.5 km time trial at an average speed of 54.545 km/h (33.893 mph), at the time the fastest individual time trial ever ridden in the Tour. Fignon’s time was fifty-eight seconds slower, costing him the victory and giving LeMond his second Tour title by that scant eight second margin.
In that famous time trial, Lemond used aero bars clamped onto his traditional handlebars. The ‘89 TDF marked the first time such aero bars were used in competition. The aerodynamic advance proved to be the difference between first and second place. Now everyone uses aero bars, while overall bike technology has continued to evolve and improve ever since.
In sport, as in society, change remains the only constant. Trying to stem it is an exercise in futility. Continue reading