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The guesswork out of record deluge in athletics

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The two endurance aces Letesenbet Gidey from Ethiopia and Joshua Cheptegei from Uganda both ran world records on October 7th in Valencia

The two endurance aces Letesenbet Gidey from Ethiopia and Joshua Cheptegei from Uganda both ran world records on October 7th in Valencia

Quelle: dpa / Bruno Almela; Toni Marín

The Corona crisis has presented athletes with major challenges since March. Since the frequency of the records in athletics is astonishing. Wonderful shoes, modified training – or doping? A root cause research.

Dhe world and European records churning out in the pandemic left question marks at the end of the athletics season. “I am surprised at the numerous records in a year in which the great crisis in sport is discussed,” said Clemens Prokop. Not only the ex-president of the German association puzzles about this accumulation in the corona crisis, in which training was barely possible or only to a very limited extent for months and there were no competitions for a long time.

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A man is wearing a face mask and is standing on a viewing platform.  In the background you can see the new national stadium, where the opening ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games was to take place.

What are the reasons for the astonishing record hunt with sometimes extreme leaps in performance?

“We looked at how the world’s top has changed overall this year – not only the top 1 ranking positions, but also the top 10 to top 30”, said Thomas Drei 30acker, head national coach long distance. “The level was a bit lower in density than in the last few years.” In some disciplines there were absolutely world-class performances: “The reason for this is not that easy to answer.”

High altitude, new training, less competition

Nine world and four European records were undercut or improved several times while running. After a long time, a German runner managed to do this. Melat Kejeta from Kassel won silver last Saturday at the Half Marathon World Championships in Gdynia (Poland) and broke the European record for all-women races in 1:05:18 hours.

Joshua Cheptegei from Uganda poses in Valencia next to a screen with his new record over 10,000 meters: 26:11:00 minutes and thus more than six seconds below the 15-year-old record of the Ethiopian runner Kenenisa Bekele

Joshua Cheptegei from Uganda poses in Valencia next to a screen with his new record over 10,000 meters: 26:11:00 minutes and thus more than six seconds below the 15th Year-old record of the Ethiopian running star Kenenisa Bekele

Quelle: dpa / Bruno Almela; Toni Marín

Most of the record performances are achieved by runners from Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, who were able to continue to train professionally at the high altitudes of their countries despite the Corona crisis, argues the German running boss. On the other hand, quite a few athletes have made a virtue out of necessity and experimented more and tried new things in training, such as the Norwegian Karsten Warholm.

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In five of six 400 meter hurdles he stayed under 48 seconds and with his European record time of 46.87 seconds only missed Kevin Young’s (USA) world record by nine hundredths of a second. “We have changed the mindset and used the pandemic situation to design the trainings and competitions in 2020 differently,” said Warholm. Instead of 20 races like 2018 and 2019, he contested nine.

“There is a lot to be said for the argument: fewer competitions, better performance,” said Prokop. For economic reasons, German track and field athletes had “got bogged down with the hunt for appointments and lost sight of the season highlight” in the past.

The Norwegian Karsten Warholm

Exhausted and overwhelmed: The Norwegian Karsten Warholm after his world title in 2019 over 400 meter hurdles

Quelle: Getty Images

Escape from the training routine is also what Frank Lebert believes is an opportunity to get faster and jump higher and further. “You have to think differently, train differently,” said the former young national trainer and today’s managing director of Deutsche Leichtathletik-Marketing. “After years of uniform training processes, this can set new conceptual stimuli.”

Technology on your feet that gives you wings?

The Dragonfly (Nike) miracle running shoe, which was worn in many of the most recent record performances, should also bring a new push. “The reports of the athletes clearly go in the direction that they have the feeling: It will bring something,” said Drei 30acker.

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Choice of footwear

According to Gert-Peter Brüggemann, there are no studies as to whether these spikes really provide the decisive driving force. “The shoe will not be the only reason for these improvements in performance,” said the biomechanics expert, but added: “But I am convinced that it will make a contribution.” Whether the shoe helps to make time leaps of five seconds or more can be said not say.

Joshua Cheptegei wore the Dragonfly in his three world records this year and improved the 5000 and 10,000 meter marks by two and six seconds respectively. Over five kilometers on the road, the runner from Uganda was the first to undercut the 13-minute mark in 12:51 minutes.

Doping during the time without testing

In addition to the assumptions about footwear that gives wings, there is also one fact: the anti-doping system worldwide had been reduced to almost zero for months. “The control system wasn’t outstanding before,” said doping expert Fritz Sörgel. “It may now be that the non-existent tests made extreme use of this.”

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World Athletics Championships 2019 in Doha.

There have always been leaps in performance, “as noticeable” as it was recently in the running area, this is questionable, even if there were tests at the competitions. “The advantages are obtained in training,” emphasized the pharmacologist. And you can be “pretty sure” that this happened during the anti-doping lockdown.


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