The Everyman: How Low Will These Records Go?

Wilson Kipsang lowered the men's marathon world record by 15 seconds in Berlin. What's next? Photo:

World records will eventually stop falling, right?

It’s been a few days since Wilson Kipsang broke the men’s marathon world record at the Berlin Marathon. It was an amazing performance, as he broke the tape in 2:03:23.

(Well, he technically wasn’t the first one to break the tape, thanks to a protester who jumped ahead of him at the finish.)

The low-water mark has fallen almost an hour in the past 100 or so years, from just under three hours to Sunday’s result. Every time a new number is registered, people wonder if this will be the one that sticks.

I’ll ask it now: Will anyone break Kipsang’s record? Is this sub-2 hour talk nonsense?

I covered Olympic swimming for four years and witnessed an incredible period in the sport’s history. World records that had stood for years and years were broken during the Beijing Olympics because of the new speedsuits that made swimmers faster. The suits, pioneered by Speedo, helped keep swimmers afloat and streamlined.

RELATED PHOTOS: Record-Setting Day In Berlin

A year later at the 2009 World Championships, 43 world records were broken — some of them completely shattered. Swimsuit makers Arena, Jaked and others had introduced even faster suits that year, some of which were essentially made of rubber.

The world records set at that meet seemed destined to remain forever after FINA, swimming’s international governing body, made all the speedsuits illegal at the start of 2010. Gone were the days of full bodysuits made of synthetic materials. Men had to wear jammers (which extend from the waist to the knees) made of textile materials, while women had to wear suits from the shoulders to the knees (without the arms covered) made of the same material.

So it seemed, therefore, that those records set in 2009 were destined to stay forever.

But that wasn’t the case at all.

Two long course (50-meter pool) world records fell between 2010 and 2011 before the floodgates opened. Sixteen world bests in 12 events have fallen in the last two years. Some of the times set in 2009 still seem untouchable, but it’s likely only a matter of time before those too will be broken.

Obviously there is a floor to all of this. Just as a swimmer will never be able to finish the 50-meter freestyle in five seconds, a marathoner will never run the race in 20 minutes. So when will these numbers stop getting lower and hit a plateau?

No one knows the answer to that question. In the meantime, let’s all enjoy the world record show unfolding before us. You never know when we’ll see the final act.

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