Usain Bolt vs. every 100m medalist ever | Video by The New York Times
An awesome little video that shows how Usain Bolt’s 100m Olympic Games performances compare to every 100m medalist since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
It shows how far from the finish line each medalist would have been if they were racing alongside Bolt when he set his 9.63-second world record. That’s pretty impressive — even recent winners look ridiculously far behind — but more impressive is the comparison between previous medal winners and existing records held at under-18 and below. The current 8-and-under record isn’t that far off the bronze medallist in 1896!
Clearly there have been enormous improvements in training, conditioning, race preparation and nutrition … and these improvements have had a huge effect on the ability of the fastest sprinters to set new records. But it’s also interesting to think about the psychological side of things — once you see someone set a new record, suddenly your idea of what is possible changes. In 1896 the idea of running under 10 seconds probably sounded insane — it was so far beyond what had been achieved in the past. If you went back in time and asked someone at the 1896 Olympics when they thought the 10-second barrier would be broken, they’d probably have told you that it never would. Now running under 10 seconds is every sprinter’s goal.
Another great example of this effect is the 4-minute mile. Achieved by Roger Bannister in May 1954, it had long been thought to be impossible. The record had stood at 4:01 for 9 years… but once Bannister broke the record, 22 other times under 4 minutes were recorded in the next 5 years. Once that plateau is removed, it’s gone forever.