Just messing around here on a coolish SoCal morning. This past week we saw two field event world records go down (or up, as the case may be). First, America’s Ryan Crouser heaved the 16-pound shot 23.38 meters at the Simplot Games last Saturday (Feb. 25, 2023) in Idaho. The throw bettered his previous world record, set outdoors at the 2021 US Olympic Trials in Oregon, by a single centimeter. It also flew well beyond his previous world indoor best of 22.82m, achieved earlier that year in Arkansas.
The second WR to fall came in the All Star Perche event in Clermont-Ferrand, France, where Swede vault savant Mondo Duplantis jack-knifed over a bar set at 6.22 meters in the pole vault to better his previous record, like Crouser, by a single centimeter. Those two marks by two historic athletes got me to thinking.
Mondo’s PV record was the sixth of his career, each mark better than the last by a single centimeter. In that sense, vaulters (and high jumpers) differ from other field eventers in that they can control their record efforts by determining where to set the bar. Last year, Duplantis raised his world record three times, took the world indoor and outdoor and Diamond League titles and was named Male Athlete of the Year across the sport.
Ukrainian Sergey Bubka broke the outdoor pole vault world record 17 times and indoor world record 18 times in the 1980s and ’90s. His first four outdoor records from 5.85m to 6.00m ranged from three to six centimeters per record. But his final 10 records from 6.05m to 6.14m were each upped by a single centimeter, as he took advantage of the bonus money opportunity each time he raised it. Since then, World Athletics has recognized a single PV world record, whether achieved indoors or out.
But while it makes sense financially to control the record attempts and clearances, did we ever really find out how high Bubka might have flown on his best day? Ryan Crouser bettered his shot put record by a single centimeter last Saturday. But he wasn’t trying to break it by that sliver of a margin. It just turned out that way as he tried out his new extra-step-in-the-turn technique (seems to have worked pretty well).
Pole vaulters and high jumpers may HAVE the capability of arranging their own world records, but they have to get there first. Both the men’s and women’s high jump world records have been pretty untouchable for the past generation-plus. Only once has Mutaz Essa Barshim even attempted a 2.46m high jump world record for men, as Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor still has a stranglehold on the mark at 2.45m from 27 July 1993. And Bulgaria’s Stefka Kostadinova‘s HJ mark of 2.09m is the fourth oldest women’s record remaining on the books, set 30 August 1987.
To encourage today’s competitors and give the public some chance of witnessing new records, should World Athletics declare set eras to differentiate one set of records from another? Major League Baseball acknowledges its dead-ball era from 1900 to 1919. Then there was the beginning of the modern era from 1969 forward when MLB lowered the pitcher’s mound following Detroit Tigers’ Denny McLain winning 31 games and St. Louis Cardinals ace Bob Gibson posing an ERA record of 1.12 in 1968.
Track could designate all records before 1 July 1989 as coming from the Pre-Testing Era, that time before random, out-of-competition drug testing began (which holds so many of the long-standing records still on the books). They could also recognize the Super Shoe Era we are currently in now, declaring all such records from 2016 to the present. What other ways are there to make today’s top marks more meaningful to the public while maintaining the integrity of the enterprise?
Oh, it’s a Pandora’s Box of uncertainty and taint, for sure. But just thinking out loud on a gray, overcast day out west.
- LONGEST STANDING RECORDS – MEN
- Jurgen Schult – GDR – Discus – 74.08m – 6 June 1986
- Yuriy Dedykh – URS – Hammer – 86.74 – 30 Aug. 1986
- Mike Powell – USA – Long Jump – 8.95m – 30 Aug. 1991
- Maurizio Damilano – ITA – 30k Walk – 2:01:44 – 3 Oct. 1992
- Javier Sotomayor – CUB – High Jump – 2.45m – 27 July 1993
- Bernardo Segura – MEX – 20K Walk – 1:17:26 – 7 May 1994
- Jonathan Edwards – GBR – Triple Jump – 18.29m – 7 Aug. 1995
- Jan Zelensky – CZE – Javelin – 98.48m – 25 May 1996
- Daniel Komen – KEN – 3000m – 7:20.67 – 1 Sept. 1996
- Hicham El Guerouj – MAR – 1500m – 3:26:00 – 14 July 1998
- LONGEST STANDING RECORDS – WOMEN
- Jarmila Kratchvilova – CZE – 800m – 1:53.28 – 26 July 1983
- Marita Koch – GDR – 400m – 47.60 – 6 Oct. 1985
- Natalya Lisovskaya – URS – Shot Put – 22.63m – 7 June 1987
- Stefka Kostadonova – BUL – High Jump – 2.09m – 30 Aug. 1987
- Galina Chistyakova – URS – Long Jump – 7.52m – 11 June 1988
- Gabrele Reinsch – GDR – Discus Throw – 76.80m – 9 Jyuly 1988
- Florence Griffith-Joyner – USA – 100m – 10.49 – 16 July 1988
- Jackie Joyner-Kersee – USA – Heptathlon – 7291 pts. – 23 Sept. 1988
- Florence Griffith-Joyner – USA – 200m – 21.34 – 29 Sept. 1988
- Nadezhda Ryashkina – URS – 10K Walk – 41:56.23 – 24 July 1990
As always, please consider:
5 thoughts on “WORLD RECORD ERAS”
A well thought out article on a challenging topic. I’m a fan of open discussions. I wonder if a panel, consisting of diverse people (current and past competitors, maybe even record holders (past and current), coaches, medical experts, etc), moderated/facilitated by say, Toni, could be put together to brainstorm ideas and hopefully arrive at a means of dealing with past sins, real and imagined. Maybe a series, allowing smaller panels (5-ish?), rethinking of ideas, freely live streamed (crucial: freely live streamed).
Granted, some media and others would likely grab onto and cherry pick negative out of context parts to get eyeballs or clicks, but that’s the nature of the beast these days. And seems unlikely to be an overall negative given the current state of the sport, as long as the panel members are thoughtful, educated, open to new ideas, and constructive. Maybe?
Great idea. Remind the public that the era that was at its most popular was riddled with drugs. I’m sure that will help.
And Meaningful? What does that mean to a public that barely pays attention. So runners are going faster. Who cares. Unlike previous eras when you had only hints of who was on what, now we know everyone has access to fancy shoes. Just enjoy the fast times and stop worrying about comparing to the past. Lots of sports like, golf, tennis, cycling etc. have had technological changes and they don’t carry on like it is the end of the world.
Baseball and athletics are the two sports most tied to their past. And in modern times, baseball was at its most popular during the steroid era. So let’s not remember that, either? Thanks contributing, as always. TR.
Baseball’s popularity has fallen for other reasons, especially its pedestrian pace of play. (Sorry for the alliteration.)
But Conrad is right that we are focusing too much on comparisons to the past. We should be focused on today’s stars and we should also be focusing more on competition rather than records. Let’s spend less time looking at the clock and more time watching the drama of a great race unfold.
Also, if we were to have a “pre-testing era,” its start date should be set much later than 1989. Yes, there was testing in the 90’s, but it is clear that many athletes were beating it. One need only look at the dates in your “10 oldest records” lists.
Greg M ,
You say, “we should also be focusing more on competition rather than records. Let’s spend less time looking at the clock and more time watching the drama of a great race unfold.”
But they don’t! That’s the point. They keep having pacers in every race trying to go for a fast time. If a competition happens, fine, but many times it’s just a set up for one athlete to try to run a fast time. If they keep doing that, the only thing we have to compare it to is the times run in the past, which we know are often tainted. They keep getting hoisted on their own petard, so to speak.
We’ve done everything we can to assist the athletes: hydraulic indoor tracks to make the banking as ideal as possible. Super shoes to accelerate pace based on effort. There is physiotherapy, cross training, advanced coaching, diet, everything. And yet they’re still not coming close to these times. So either change the distances so we have a whole new set of records to focus on that aren’t tainted, or stop focusing on an outcome which invariably makes you consider what came before it.
The sport has allowed itself to be painted into this corner. And now it’s paying for that lack of oversight through the years. Sad, but true. Thanks for contributing, as always.