Wow, how things have changed.
In 1952, a 25-year-old medical student did what people had said was impossible. Roger Bannister made history when he ran a mile in under four minutes, shifting the sports world and challenging our ideas about the limits of athletic performance.
Since then, countless records have been set in every sport people play. We keep getting better and better, and just when we think someone has surely reached the pinnacle, someone else comes along to push the limit even further.
One sporting event where such constant improvement is made crystal clear is gymnastics. I remember how enthralled we all were with Mary Lou Retton's perfect 10 vaults when I was a kid, and now they look fairly basic. (Not to take anything away from her—at the time it was truly amazing, and she did execute them flawlessly.)
A video showing how much competitive gymnastics has evolved has gone viral on Twitter. The timing it claims is incorrect, however; it says it shows "100 years different in athletic ability," from 1912 to 2012, but the videos from the past are clearly from the 1940s or '50s.
The fact that the sport has evolved so much in an even shorter period of time is more impressive, actually, as an MTV News video shows. Check this out:
Granted, Simone Biles pushed the sport even further than it had already gone, but that's really the point. Someone will come along in a year or five and blow Simone Biles off the mat. Even the best of the best get bested eventually. It's just the way it goes.
But why? Have human bodies really changed that much in a few generations? And why is record-breaking usually done in such dramatically small increments? Rarely do we see someone come along and completely obliterate a previous time or previous feat. It's usually just a tiny bit better, a tiny bit faster, a tiny bit more precise—just enough to break the record, but not push much further. Over and over and over.
We should give record-breakers the credit they're due, but the evolution of athletic performance is not all about individuals and what they can do. So much about sports has improved over time, from the apparatuses athletes use to the training methods they employ to the nutrition they consume. The mats, fields, tracks, and so on, are not the same today as they were decades ago.
Additionally, peak performance has become an entire multifaceted industry and field of study, and what we know about how to optimize ability keeps expanding.
At some point, though, we have to actually hit our physical limits, don't we? Or do we? Will humans be able to run a 1-minute mile in 300 years? Will all of the elements that affect athletic performance be honed and trained such that we'll be able to do the impossible-for-now?
According to Scientific American, we may be getting closer to plateauing at our human limits, as record-breaking appears to be slowing in pace. And, of course, as biotechnology evolves, we have to wonder what parameters we even put on what "counts" when it comes to achievement. Performance-enhancing drugs have already created conundrums in competitive sports; how much more will genetic tinkering and the like?
All questions we don't have answers for, but it is fun to imagine what humans will be able to do in another 50 or 100 years, isn't it?