A superbly written and researched article, Mr. Klosterman combines the thoughts of an informed sports fan, and a journalist who knows who to go to for the right answers. In the end, his question is answered on several levels, but it adds to the fans understanding of the complexity of human performance. Charles Darwin would be pleased as would Gregor Mendel (oh, remember your high school genetics class).
I read it, and read it a second time, and then, read it a third time. Thoughtful, humorous, and very, very accurate. I have some issues on a few assertions (his thoughts about drugs in sports are what many thoughtful people think, I will discuss that in a bit), but his ability to put much of the thoughts on limitations of the human body and spirit in one place is to be commended.
Sprinting, distance running, as well as jumping and throwing are pursuits that challenge credulity in modern society. That is perhaps why, so many people run, jump and throw and watch people who run, jump and throw.
Klosterman's comments on where sprinting is going, how sprinters see the world (note the comments from Tyson Gay, a supreme sprinter, and one of the nicest people in sports), and some of the comments by Ato Boldon and quoted researchers are spot on. Man is built for distance running, but sprinting is a pursuit that people will continue and fans will continue to demand.
My differences of opinion are on a few things: I am not fond of track & field being compared to cycling and it's drug issues, but, alas, it is true. While track & field athletes are probably the cleanest athletes in USOC federations, we do know this: they are the most tested. That means that, in my mind, most of our athletes are clean, but cheating not only exists, it poisons the entire sport. Perception and the reality are so different.
The scary part, for me, is where work on genomic improvements or additions is going. Soon, some couple, who should not be parents, will try and buy a kid who has Einstein's intellect and Beckem's left foot-that is when the nightmare years begin, mes amis. Sport then becomes a skit from Saturday night Live (remember the all Steroid olympics?).
Then, the real participants in sports go back to the small stadia, and fields, and run, jump, and throw, with no crowds, no twitter, no digital signs on the sides of the field.
Traveling as I do around the world, I note that the US is considered to be one of federations that is most suspect, and where the huge talent in the sport is seen, there is no understanding of the disparate nature of the American sport: huge numbers in juniors (1.4 million in high schools, 3 million in junior highs), 50 outdoor state meets where paid attendance is over 300,000 this year, yet trouble filling up elite track meets, well except in Eugene and Randalls Island, and consistently confused coverage of the sport on U.S. television. And, no one can understand why a World Champs has not been held in the U.S. So much of this is cultural, and so much of this is because, in the US, we live in our large continent, with this myopic sense that all is good because the local Starbucks has delivered our double espresso with goats milk and one piece of pure cane sugar with perfection.
My continuous dialogue on USADA and WADA is down to three concepts: a) develop peer reviewed tests so that your tests pass judicial review, b) stop wasting time on a certain Tour de France winner, and use that money on the present, c) take marijuana off the list-better chance said offender will order pizza and watch the Simpsons than try and clear eight feet in the high jump.
So, back to Chuck Klosterman's article. Well-written, well-researched, great style. I am placing it in my top ten (always moving), all time articles on the sport are below. I began this when I first read the late John Jerome's story on Frank Shorter, " by putting together twenty-six miles at five minutes per mile, Frank Shorter invented running...." , and then Kenny Moore (I have gone through three copies of Moore's Best Efforts and two of Tom Jordan's Pre book, but books are different matter, different column).
(1. John Jerome, Frank Shorter feature, Mariah, 1977, 2. Kenny Moore, Lasse Viren, Sports Illustrated, 1979-80?, 3. Bob Wischnia, RW, Duncan McDonald feature, 1977-78, tie, 4. Kenny Moore, Consider the Chrysanthemums, Best Efforts (SI piece 1971-2?), James Dunaway, Horace Ashenfelter, American Track & Field, 1996, 5. Rich Benyo/Bob Wischnia, Bill Rodgers, RW, 1980, 6. 1984 Olympic Trials coverage, The Runner magazine (Marc Bloom et al.), 7. 1980 Olympic coverage, TFN (their coverage each Olympics is deserving of geek worship, 1980 coverage by Dunaway of hijinks in Moscow are pure poetry, but I am biased, as he is my editor/mentor), 8. Ken Kesey, The Summer of their Discontent (Running, Fall 1980), 9. Hunter S. Thompson, Curse of Lono (taken from Honolulu coverage, Running, 1981).
So, read it, it is just that good. (I like his footnotes). Is the Fastest Human Ever Already Alive (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/6760031/is-fastest-human-ever-already-alive)
Tell me what you think! Email me at [email protected].