Magazine: Stop Gushing Over the Olympic World Records

The folks at Slate magazine, usually cynics on their best days, want the rest of us to put an end to the unbridled amazement at all the world records being set in the first week of the Olympic Games in Beijing.

It seems their principal beef is with the all-time marks being set in the swimming events, in which stars like Michael Phelps of the United States keep shattering records. They may be buzz-killers, but they do have a few good points to make. Maybe we're not being jaded enough about how much today's athletes are extending their performances with the help of some sophisticated, new techniques and technologies.

The online magazine lays out a few of these enhancements in an article in their Human Nature section (please see Olympic Inflation). Here's a brief sampling of some of their gripes.

Note: We've covered some of these items already in this forum.

  • The Speedo LZR Racer swimsuit line: 'It reduces friction (compared with skin) and is structurally designed to compress and streamline the body for maximum speed.'

  • Depth of Aquatics Center pool: 'This is the deepest pool ever used in the Olympics. Depth disperses turbulence, reducing resistance.'

  • Starting blocks for swimmers. 'Nonskid versions have replaced the old wooden ones, boosting dive propulsion.'

  • Medical analysis of athletes. 'Swimmers are blood-tested after each race to measure lactic-acid buildup.'

  • Sports scientists on teams. 'They run the monitoring and analysis. The U.S. swim team has four.'

These are, mostly, enhancements that competitors did not have in past Olympics swim meets (especially going back before Athens in 2004).

So should we still be cheering so loud when these superb athletes knock a sizable chunk off a world record? Why not?

It's just human nature to get excited about seeing the best performances ever occurring in front of our eyes right now. We may know they are getting better training, equipment, and feedback; but that doesn't really dampen the thrill of watching the finest athletes on the planet turn in the fastest results ever.

Phelps will be swimming for gold today in the 200-meter individual medley at the Aquatics Center (a.k.a., the Cube). If he should happen to win the race and set another all-time best mark, go ahead and make a little noise for him.

Despite what the cynics might say, he would deserve it.


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