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Story ideas for health reporters covering the summer Olympic Games
Date:7/31/2008

ROCHESTER, Minn. - The world-record pace for the marathon continues to improve for both men and women. For men, the record pace for the marathon is now about as fast as the record pace for the 10,000-meter run just after World War II. Today, champion athletes are running more than four times farther at speeds of well under five minutes per mile.

How can this be? Are humans simply built better or is there something else behind the mind-blowing speeds on the racetrack?

Michael Joyner, M.D., an anesthesiologist at Mayo Clinic whose research interests extend to exercise science, says that a combination of factors are leading to new world records in track and field and other sports. He attributes the improved records, not necessarily to genetics, but to training harder and longer, improved medical care and the fact that people from throughout the world now participate.

In studying the world records of sporting events like the marathon, the mile and 10,000- and 5,000-meter races throughout the last 125 years, Dr. Joyner says there are key primary factors at play. Prior to World War I, athletes didn't train every day. They trained three to four times per week out of concern they would "overtrain" or become stale. By the 1920s, athletes were training more often and by the 1950s, especially in Eastern Europe, athletes were training daily for hours at a time.

By the 1960s, more people from other countries were involved in competition than ever before. Up until then, most champion athletes came from European countries, the U.S., Australia and Canada. Since then, however, athletes from the developing world have been able to participate. Since the 1960s, some of the most successful athletes have come from the East African countries of Ethiopia and Kenya.

"So we've gone from maybe one-fifth or one-sixth of the world's population participating to where we now have a huge pool of people in the Olympic Games," Dr. Joyner says.


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Contact: Amy Reyes
newsbureau@mayo.edu
507-284-5005
Mayo Clinic
Source:Eurekalert

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