: > This of course begs the question you indeed ask: "Why are they slower?"
: > I wish I knew, but I believe the answer is a combination of the
: > following: (I'm mostly serious here.)
: > * The end of the cold war
: Uh... what?
The American government and media sold the American public on the idea
that our way of life was at stake if we did not stop the communist
attempt to take over the world. Athletics (i.e. track and field) is the
cornerstone of the Olympics, which became a place to show that "our
system is better than your system". Thus, in the 60s and 70s and even
into the 80's, the public placed a high value on doing well and
defeating the Soviets. US-Soviet dual meets would literally draw
100,000 spectators. As late as the mid 70's, one of my high school
teammates ran in a US-USSR track meet that filled the Astrodome.
As the USSR declined, so did the perceived threat of their domination,
and so did the need to defeat them in all ways. I've yet to meet anyone
who is concerned about the Kenyans trying to foist their way of life on
us, and believing that their winning Boston every year is the first
: > * The New York marathon
: > * Running magazines
A couple of decades ago, running was much the same as the major sports
(e.g. baseball) are today. There was a "major leagues" (college and
national class runners), but once you hit a certain age you stopped
participating and became a spectator. In high school there was more of
a focus on trying to make it to the big leagues, and it carried a
certain amount of prestige.
With the advent of the popularization of running, winning or making it
big became much less of an issue. The focus of the sport switched to
participating, or just finishing. Phrases like "Run for fun" and
"everyone is a winner" became more popular. While in the grand scheme
of things this may be a Good Thing, it makes it harder to get a lot kids
to bust their butts in workouts.
The running magazines are typically filled with tripe and with a focus
on second order effects. _Running Times_ recently had an article that
was an exception. There was no commentary, just a set of questions
asked of about 6 or 7 elite runners. The results were very interesting.
They didn't watch what they ate, they didn't stretch, they didn't use
heart rate monitors, they didn't do a lot of fluffy types of things that
the running rags typically promote. There *was* something that they all
did: run a lot of miles, and run hard workouts, usually 3 a week.
: I'll add:
: * Introduction of soccer, softball
: * More kids taking jobs
: * No P.E. in middle school
: * Decreased membership (as much as I dislike what they do with kids) in
: track clubs
: * Changing academic expectations
: Let me clarify this one. My high school coach told me that when
: he and many of the top-10 list runners at our school were attending
: Sprague, students took P.E. all four years. He and the other guys on the
: team would gerrymander their schedules so they all had it the same
: period in the morning, and the P.E. teachers were O.K. with them checking
: in, then going on a run. That wouldn't be possible now.
Agreed, the atmosphere is very different now for organized sports. I
don't knwo how young your coach is, but from 8th grade to 12th grade
when I attended high school, I believe P.E. was mandatory, and all the
athletes had P.E. as their last period of the day so that they could
continue workouts after school. I had assumed this was still the
: HOWEVER... there are some notable exceptions to this pattern.<snip>
There will always be the top kids who are motivated to do their best and
who will excel. The discrepencies between the fastest runners today and
20 years ago are not as great as the differences between the "near
elites" and the rest. I was a pretty decent high school runner: 4:35 in
the mile and 9:42 in the two mile. My senior year, I was our number
five miler and our number four two miler. We had a very good team, but
not an exceptional one. The depth is what was different then.
: I'll also remind you that Brian Abshire (made '88 Olympic team in
: steeple, 8:16 if I'm not mistaken) had a HS 3200 PR of about 9:24, and
: Steve Scott's best mile of his high school years was 4:16. I don't think
: it's such a bad thing (and quite possibly beneficial) if the heavy
: training is postponed until college.
Scott concentrated on the 880 in high school and didn't really move up
until he hit college. I believe he was a contender for the California
state 880 championship. And 4:16 is nothing to sneeze at for a high
schooler. I'd bet that if your data is correct, Abshire would still
have been a state meet level qualifier.
I agree that the rate of improvement varies both during and after high
school, and achieving superstardom at an early age is no guarantee of
later success. But in Scott's day, there were a whole lot more 4:16
milers from which someone like him could emerge. The intensity and the
level of competition was much higher, and a 4:16 miler knew he would
have to work his ***off to be successful later on.