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Record-Breaking Record Breaking

September 8, 2008

In my personal views, I waver between blind optimism and cold cynicism. The pendular sway between the two poles is in my blood; I am American to the core. Sad to say that watching the Olympics, the cynical side got the better of me.

Let me begin expressing this short, uninformed opinion with a disclaimer: I have neither the time nor inclination to do the research to back up my views. What follows is purely based on “gut” instinct and vague recollections of stuff I read. This should be fun.

What I’d like to address is all the record-breaking going on at the games, in particular in swimming. Yes, there were some amazing individual performances, most notably Michael Phelps. And I do believe that these performances were mostly a testament to the amazing fortitude of the athletes.

But, come on! Almost every other final a world record? I know the Olympic stage brings out the best in the best, but it all just seemed a bit excessive. In the accounts I read, there were generally two explanations for the rash of records falling (in swimming): super-high-tech swimsuits and advanced “training methods.” OK, a swimsuit can shave how many seconds off a time? Is it even a matter of seconds? Still, every major media outlet went in depth (straight from the Speedo press release) on the suits, breaking down the physics for us armchair sportsmen. But I don’t recall seeing a single bit of ink spilled on the topic of those “training methods.” Were they too proprietary, too much a highly kept secret?

Or, are “training methods,” as I have learned from the tall tales of BALCO, a euphemism for performance enhancing substances? There, I said it. No disrespect to the athletes, but the rate and margins of record-breaking strained this sportsfan’s threadbare credulity.

As one of the NBC announcers put it after watching Bolt gallop to two insane victories in the 100 and 200, and I paraphrase, “I only hope test results will show his performance was clean.”

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