When I hear the world record in the women's 400m hurdles is 50.68 or the men's 10k is 26:11.00 my response is always the same - NFW! And yet these are the marks. They are performances which astound a coach who has been involved in track for almost sixty years.
Even though these times are by Olympic caliber competitors and not collegiate athletes, I still expect the same trends at either level - recent years producing top marks better than performances of the last century.
I was a college coach for 35 years. Times, heights, and distances have improved dramatically since then...right? Well, for the most part. But not all. There is one event (& certainly a second) in college and at the professional level where results fall far below the improvement you would expect in the natural progression.
In this case it's the high jump.
The marks below are from consecutive DI NCAA outdoor championships (for example 2017 & 2018) so you can get a feel for the time period rather than just one meet. Two of the pairs (A&B) are results from the late 70's and 1980, the other two pairs from less than thirteen years ago.
See if you can pick which is which. I'll be impressed if you can. In no particular order here are the years, 1976 & 1977, 1979 & 1980, 2010 & 2011, and 2017 & 2018. If I didn't have the years in front of me I don't know that I would have known. It would be easy to say that these are collegiate marks and not national or Olympic marks, but anyone with a historical perspective realizes one is a reflection of the other.
Let me remind you that the world record in the high jump, 8'0.25" by Javier Sotomayor of Cuba, was set in 1993 - thirty years ago! It is the longest-standing record in the history of this event. Jesse Owen's long jump mark only lasted 25 years. Maybe that proves the current long jump performances are equally as lame.
Here are the top five Americans on the HJ list. As you can see, four are from the last century, - including the top two. And before you say those are only 30 years ago - stop and think what you just said.
7-10.5" Hollis Conway 1991
7-10.5" Charles Austin 1991
7-9.75" Matt Hemingway 2000
7-9.75" Tom McCants 1988
7-9.25" Jerome Carter 1988
7-9.25" Jesse Williams 2011
7-9.25" Erik Kynard 2013
But are others events like this? Let's look. There is no question that men's marks in the sprints, hurdles, and distances have improved over the marks from forty years ago. Below are the number of top 5 that were pre-2000. Yet it's clear the high jump and long jump in the US have been stagnant.
100 - none from pre-2000
200 - 1/5
400 - 3/5
800 - 1/5
1500 - 1/5
5000 - none
10K - none
110H - none
400H - 2/5
PV - none
LJ - 5/5 pre-2000 (not good)
TJ - 2/5
SP - none (due to spin technique?)
D - 5/5 (steroids?)
H - 4/5 (ditto)
J- 1/5 (implement changes)
Tomorrow I'll let you know the pairs of HJ marks so you can check out your guesses.