The Amazing Michael Phelps

THE AMAZING MICHAEL PHELPS….I don’t have any special reason for posting this, but, you know, why not? Olympic fever and all that.

Anyway, the chart on the right shows the progression of world records since WWII in the 800m sprint and the 200m freestyle swim, both of which take roughly two minutes for world class athletes. As you can see, the swimming record has indeed progressed stupendously faster than the running record, dropping 17% since 1950 compared to 5% for the running record. Amazing!

But there’s a twist. Despite all the hoohah about LZR suits, 3-meter pools and the insistent march of technology, the biggest drop by far was between 1950 and 1980, when the 200m record plummeted by 15 seconds. In the past 28 years, by contrast, it’s dropped only a sluggish 6 additional seconds. Not so amazing after all! I demand swimmers with genetically engineered gills in time for the 2012 Olympics.

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