Athletes, Tech, and Human Resources

by JT McGee

I hope everyone is enjoying the summer Olympics this year.

The NY Times posted a new article about the evolution of sprinters over the past 116 years. Since the 1904 Olympic games, runners have only become faster and faster.

In 1904, the gold medal went to a man who ran the 100m dash in 11 seconds. In 2012, Usain Bolt posted a time of 9.63 seconds. The interesting thing here is how much faster Olympians have become. Keep in mind that the gold medal time of 11 seconds in 1904 is SLOW. A good high school track sprinter can do 100 meters in less than 11 seconds.

What’s Changed?

So what’s changed with sprinters? I’d say it comes down to three things:

1. Athletes are better trained – More resources are invested in churning out killer sprinters today than in 1904. Plus, world class sprinters are more likely to earn a reasonable living in 2012 than they were in 1904. Merely competing in the Olympics is good for endorsement contracts galore.

2. Technological improvements – Shoes are better, clothes are tighter and lighter, and tracks are invariably of better quality after more than a century of improvement.

3. Human Resources – We’re better at spotting the best future athletes earlier in their careers. A larger talent pool makes for better talent.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

A Blinkin August 6, 2012 at 13:09

It was interesting to see that 3rd this year would have won gold any other Olympics but the last 2. It makes you wonder if the improvement is only in track and swimming? Is this dream team better than the 1992 team? Surely its not the same comparison as 1904 but still…thoughts?


JT McGee August 7, 2012 at 14:41

I think it’s really just objectivity – it’s easy to compare sprinters because the common denominator is time. Fencers and water polo players are probably much better today than in years gone by, but it’s more difficult to judge because of the way talent is measured.


PK August 7, 2012 at 09:39

And in the future? Genetic screening at birth (maybe even genetic manipulation?), sports incubators, and next generation drugs?

Unless that sort of thing can be caught – I imagine a cat and mouse game.


JT McGee August 7, 2012 at 14:42

I predict the 2036 Olympics will be robot vs robot.


Darwin's Money August 8, 2012 at 12:17

I think #3 plays a much larger role now than people give it credit for. Americans are incredibly competitive (at least their parents are) starting as early as age 4. I see parents at my kids’ T-Ball games and into-to-soccer leagues with red faces and veins bulging out of their necks yelling at their kids to win! win! win! Be more aggressive! Get him! These parents are friggin nuts, but after the regular season, they have these kids going to individual coaching sessions, summer camps and drilling them in the driveway each and every day. With millions of families like this, even the top 1% of these kids translates into thousands of incredibly trained and conditioned athletes. It wasn’t like this a hundred years ago. Jonny worked on a farm, happened to be a fast runner and somehow progressed to the Olympics.


Corey @ Passive Income to Retire August 9, 2012 at 21:56

I agree with #3. It’s much easier to locate talent. I recently read about professional basketball players and how the NBA has tons of international scouts and thousands of hours of tape categorized by player. It’s insane how much time is put in to scouting.


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