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[Opinion] Men of Lightning Speed

Posted September. 16, 2002 22:45,   


Berlin Olympic Stadium on August 1 1936. Sitting at the top seat of the stadium, Hitler was expecting his German athlete to win a gold medal for his people. The Olympic games, after all, were a stage set to prove to the world the superiority of the Great Arian people. Furthermore, Germany was boasting top athletes in the men’s 100 meters, the very highlight of the track and flied competition. With some 100,000 people sitting in the stadium and many more watching the game before TV sets, it was a perfect stage for Hitler. But his dream was shattered by an African American athlete named Jesse Owens, who is remembered as one of the great track and field Olympians in history.

▷Owens not only snatched the gold medal before Hitler’s eyes, but also set the great record of 10.2 seconds. The “historic record” has now become a less-than-ordinary figure for most track athletes, however. The 10-seconds barrier, which was believed as the human speed limit at that time, soon broke down in 1968. It was 1991 when the 9.9-seconds was reached, and 9.8-seconds soon followed in 1999. Tim Montgomery, a U.S. track and field athlete, set a new world record just two days ago at 9.78 seconds. He was 0.42 seconds faster than Owens. “0.42 seconds for the last 66 years? Is that all?” Some might wonder. In a 100 meters competition, however, even a hundredth of a second makes a big difference. Then the 0.42 difference translates into that Owens were as far as 5 meters lagging behind Montgomery from the finishing line, and might have finish last.

▷This does not mean that the record set by Owen is nothing but a thing of the past, however. Sports science has contributed significantly to setting a new record. Nike’s “Swift” uniform lets out only the face and fingers of a sprinter to reduce the resistance of the wind. Athletes marvel at the high-tech uniform made up of five different kinds of textile, saying, “it feels like skin not sports wear.” Sports wear makers are toiling hard to develop running shoes that will make a 5cm difference at the finishing line. Lee Bong-ju, who has evenly-shaped feet, was able to become the world’s top marathoner much thank to the specially-design shoes. Science makes wonders in the sports arena, too.

▷Then what is the human limit in the 100 meters. A group of Japanese scientists released an interesting finding a few years ago. When they simulated the 100 meters with a virtual athlete who had all of the strong points of greatest sprinters in history, the record was 9.5 seconds. Dr, Rider, an American sports scientist, further maintains 9.34 seconds based on the records of the past 100 years. Just as there is a saying “A record exists to be rewritten,” the world will continue to see men of lightning speeds. And no one knows where is the end. One thing is sure, however. That is, how fast a man of lightning speed runs, he will never excel a cheetah.

Choi Hwa-kyung, Editorial Writer bbchoi@donga.com