Yesterday evening I met up with a few runner friends and spent four hours in the pub putting the world to rights. The main topics of conversation were running and running, with the odd anecdote about running thrown in. OK, not strictly true; we did talk about other things but I can’t quite remember what they were.
One of the questions posed was which track world records were most likely to be broken in the near future. “Easy,” I said, stating the men’s marathon world record as the one with the shortest shelf life, before considering the actual question and remembering that the marathon is a road event and not run round a 400m oval.
We threw a few out there. Rob opened the bidding with a very creditable “men’s 800m,” an obvious but sensible choice given that the current record is only a year old and the man who set it, David Rudisha, is in his early twenties. I weighed in with a similarly obvious “steeplechase – men or women,” justified by the fact that the women’s event is fairly new and that Brimin Kipruto came within 0.01 seconds of the world record this summer on the men’s side.
The reason world records are held in such high esteem is that they are, well, actually bloody hard to set. Olympic gold aside, they are the pinnacle of athletic achievement and with this in mind it is obvious why we soon ran out of ideas. So naturally the conversation turned to the untouchables: the records that are out of sight of the current generation of athletes. We debated the women’s 100m world record of 10.49, set by Florence Griffith Joyner. Didn’t Jeter come pretty close a couple of years ago? (she did) Who do you think can break it then? (no one) Was she on drugs? (hang on now, let’s not go there).
We shared thoughts on the women’s 800m record, again set during times when drug and gender testing were not considered important elements of quality control in athletics. We were less willing to grant this one untouchable status by virtue of the fact that some athletes (Jelimo and Semenya) have come pretty close in recent years and are both still young.
At this point we turned our attentions to the current crop of female distance athletes and expressed our sympathy for them and their futile attempts to chase records well out of their reach. With the exception of Dibaba’s 5000m record, all these records were set during a time when women were men, men were on drugs, and drugs were not effectively tested for. Consider Qu Yungxia’s 3:50:46 for 1500 from the 1993 Chinese National Championships. No woman ran within 9 seconds of that this year. NINE seconds. That is over two seconds per lap.
We neglected to mention the women’s 3000m record of 8:06 last night too. The top four times ever were all set at the same national championships as the 1500 record. How can any woman today expect to compete with that time, set by Wang Jungxia? The fastest time this year was 8:38. The one record that did get a mention was the 10000m, also set by Wang. I will leave it to the reader’s imagination where and when that one was set, but will say that 29:31 is 22 seconds quicker than the next best time ever. Not even Paula Radcliffe broke 30 minutes, let alone run that fast.
My original aim when wiritng this was to group the records into some vague and ill informed categories along the lines of ‘broken soon,’ ‘next few years’ and ‘no chance.’ I even started typing them up, but then came to realise something. With a couple of exceptions, anything set by a woman on the track is untouchable. Don’t even bother. My advice to female track athletes is simple: enjoy the racing and try and beat your contemporaries because you sure ain’t going to beat the women of the past. I also noticed that no one is anywhere near the men’s 400, the men’s 1500 and mile or the men’s 3000, but that most of the others are fair game. Having said that, Bekele’s 10000 will not be broken any time soon, not for lack of individual talent or depth in distance running, but because anyone good enough in the next few years will step right up to the cash-rich marathon. The 25 lapper is dying out.
I love making predictions. They’re usually wrong. Watch this space.