Will the men’s 100m race on day be run in under 5 seconds?
Listen to my BBC radio chat with Malcolm. We discuss breaking world sporting records at 1 minute 25 seconds in this clip:
Although it seems that world record sports performances are being beaten all the time, I would suggest that a new world record is a very rare occurence indeed. We might feel like we hear about new world records alot but this generally coincides with us watching the very best the world has to offer competing in the Olympic games.
Long-established world records are broken occasionally but the longer records have been kept for a sport, the more unlikely becomes the probability of that record being broken again. The science/statistics/probability theory that tells us this is called ‘extreme-value statistics’ and is illustrated in my rather natty drawing below. Human beings capable of achieving anything close to world-record times are rare and the chances that those people are competing in a sporting event are rarer still. Every time 0.1 second is shaved off of a world record time, it becomes more unlikely that the new time will be bettered.
If humans were to become bigger, stronger, and faster, then we would expect records to keep falling. Are we getting bigger? I would say yes – if I look around in the hallways of the university where I teach, I am now dwarfed by many of the undergraduate student body. This is not ‘evolution’. That process will always select for bigger and stronger, or smaller, if those characteristics aid in survival. Evolution takes millions of years. The fact that my generation is bigger than my parents generation and that the undergrads tower over me is down to nutrition. Childhood nutrition is vitally important and has never been so good for so many as it is at the moment. This results in the increased stature that I observe. Kids today are, therefore, bigger and stronger and I would say that if that trend continues – then world records will continue to fall.