June 01, 2005

Back In MY Day …

Last week, Tennessee State University made a very nice gesture, unveiling a new monument honouring 59 athletics Olympians from TSU.

A little history: TSU dominated women's athletics throughout the 1960s. TSU athletes won the 100m in 1960, 1964, and 1968, and threw in a silver in 1964 for good measure; the entire gold-medal-winning 4 × 100m relay team in 1960 was from TSU. Olympic legend Wilma Rudolph ran for TSU. As a university, they've won more medals than many countries.

But rather than mention these incredible athletic accomplishments, this story just can't resist taking a shot at the modern athlete. Let us all mourn for the 60's, when TSU dominated women's athletics in the world. There must be some reason why they don't have that kind of success today. What could it be … Oh, I've got it! Today everybody's on steroids!

In an era where track and field is awash in scandal, with some of its biggest stars tainted by use or suspected use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, it is refreshing to know that TSU's Olympic legacy is untarnished … Instead, the Tigerbelles' success was forged out of sweat, not via some quick-fix trip to a lab. Daily workouts at 5, 9:30 and 2 fostered a work ethic that did not need chemical enhancement.

This kind of crap really irks me. Yeah, back in my day, athletes worked way harder than they do today, and they never cheated like they do today, and they were never unsportsmanlike like they are today, and they didn't make as much money as they do today.

Well, one of those things is true, anyway.

The TSU Tigerbelles of the 1960s (and beyond) were great athletes and great Olympians. But why is it impossible to believe that there are athletes around today who are just as great? OK, I grant you, some — a small number — of today's athletes are cheaters. But let's stop painting everybody with that brush, please.

I've already gone through something like this for the men's 100m, and I won't go into the full analysis again. But here's an interesting fact; both Wilma Rudolph and Wynomia Tyus, the best sprinters of the 60s, ran under 11.1 seconds at least once. Rudolph's 11.0 seconds in the 1960 final (on a cinder track!) was wind-aided (2-3 m/s) and so did not count as a world record (she ran 11.3 seconds in her semi-final). Tyus won the gold in 1968 in an unheard-of 11.08 seconds. That time was aided by the high altitude of Mexico City.

So now it's forty years later, when all you need to be a great sprinter is a "quick-fix trip to a lab." In 2004, guess how many of the world's best lazy, drug-injecting sprinters ran better than 11.1 seconds? Fourteen.

Does that seem like a big number to you? Does it seem unreasonable that there could be 14 women alive today that are better than the best sprinters TSU produced forty years ago? After accounting for 40 years of improvement in track surfaces, equipment, (legal) training methods, and nutrition, and an explosion of global participation in athletics, couldn't there be just a few women who are actually faster than Wynomia Tyus?

Again, I'm not denying that there are cheaters out there. We hear about them every day. But I think the evidence is fairly clear that everybody is not doing it.


Anonymous said...

well... I was reading you post about the TSU Olympians and then I ended up[ at the post about Bob Hayes... and I remember my godfather who was on the National Track Squad for Jamaica in those days telling me that he was sure that Bob Hayes was on something... I cant remember what he thought it was... but I definately remeber a conversation on the topic where Bob Hayes' name was mentioned... food for thought!

Amateur said...

I guess for one thing, it goes to show that the very fast in EVERY era have been accused of cheating.

If the allegations are true, then it would work against my argument that some of the world's top sprinters today are still clean.

It would also prove that the Tigerbelle "era" wasn't clean, either. We just have their reassurances that they weren't cheating.