As top athletes around the world prepare to head for Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics, they’ll be doing so with one thought in mind: winning a medal (preferably of the golden type) for their country.
And while it’s guaranteed that gold medals will be handed out in every event, regardless of the overall performance, it’s also certain that those performances will truly be worthy of gold medals, and world records are likely to fall by the wayside in many different disciplines.
Athletes continue to get better and better at their chosen events and continue to improve by leaps and bounds over their predecessors.
How is this possible? Have humans improved that much genetically in mere decades, such that their athletic performance is light-years beyond the greatest athletes of bygone eras?
Not exactly. What has improved is the science of sport: the science of building the perfect athlete for a particular discipline.
Vive la sports revolution!
Several factors play a role in the continuing evolution of sports performance. First is the training aspect: Elite athletes spend more time training and devoting themselves fully to their sport than ever.
Not only are they spending more time training, however; they’re doing so more efficiently, and training very specifically with their sport in mind. Studies have shown a large improvement in performance among those countries that have sport-specific training centers over those without. This forces many athletes from poorer countries to train at overseas facilities.
It’s not just physical training and preparation that have improved, though. Athletes now understand the importance of training and conditioning their minds as well. Sports psychology has become big business, and an important tool in the training of many of today’s best athletes.
Developing the confidence and mental toughness to carry them through the most trying of challenges is just as important as developing the muscles and skill required in their sport.
Another kind of science
There’s also an unfortunate side to the improved performance of some athletes, and that’s the growth of illegal doping during the past 30 to 40 years. Some substances are extremely difficult to detect, so some athletes are gaining a physical advantage and maximizing their performance by taking illegal substances.
Lance Armstrong’s admission of doping in 2013 was a shocking and sad end to what had been an incredible story of courage and perseverance.
Having one’s name engraved on trophies and award medals now takes much more than just a fit body and some talent for the sport. Dedication and commitment to fully immersing oneself in it, and improved training methods created through scientific study, are leading to ever-evolving, record-shattering athletes and performances.