The Fastest Nation|
8 June 2006
By Alex Ray,
It’s quite usual for us to get to know that some American athlete wins another world or Olympic title in sprint event. Last time it was news from Helsinki World Championships, where the Americans had clear superiority over others in individual sprint disciplines. They won more titles than all other nations taken together. Of course, that’s not every time that it happens, but the advantage of American athletes which is due to their high level is obvious. While athletes from other countries come to sport elite and go away, Americans always stay in. Moreover, it’s impossible to imagine the sprint elite without Americans. They dominate short-distance running championships now. They have been dominating for all history of modern athletics since the first Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.
To prove this point of view I’m giving the so-called rating of all nations’ Olympic performance athletes of which ever took prices at the modern Olympic Games. A nation gets 3 points for every gold medal, silver is 2 points and bronze is 1 point. For example, at the 2004 Olympics the Americans won all medals in men’s 200 meters dash. In women’s 200 meters dash a Jamaican won gold, an American got silver and a Bahamian got bronze. Thus Americans get 8 points, Jamaicans - 2 point, Bahamians – 1 point. Summing up points for all years we get following statistics:
USA – 120
Germany – 22
Great Britain – 20
Canada – 14
Australia – 13
Other countries – 69
USA – 117
Germany – 18
Jamaica – 16
Australia – 14
Great Britain – 12
Other countries - 63
USA – 97
Germany – 22
Great Britain 20
Jamaica – 13
Australia – 12
Other countries – 52
In every event Americans are far ahead of others. However, even if we take into consideration such a huge advantage, it might be still wrong to say that other countries’ athletes are much worse trained. During the twentieth century there were stars among British, Canadian, Caribbean and other sprinters whose achievements have become part of sports history. Many of them are Olympic and world champions. There also world record holders among them. Now we talk about Asafa Powell, Veronica Campbell and Tonique Williams-Darling. We also remember Linford Christie, Donovan Bailey, Marita Koch and Marie-Jose Perec from the past.
However, the point is that they are the only representatives of their nations. They come into sports, show outstanding performance and go away followed by no compatriots matching their level. But only the USA athletes show high-level performance constantly. It’s quite hard to find reasons for it taking into account that the level of training process is also high in many other countries. Actually it is not the training process itself that differs the States from other countries. It is rather sports system organization which selects, raises and motivates athletes.
Prevalent approach to athletics
There are two models of sports system organization in the world.
The first one is the system of state financing developed in most countries. State Sports Department exercises supervision over Sports Federations which provide athletes with good conditions for trainings, medicine care, opportunities for preparations and so on. The State takes care of athletes from the beginning of their career and they feel comfortable in such conditions.
Many of them come into athletics and train like for fun, considering running from this point of view: “I have an opportunity for training. First I will train for fun and will see if I am good in running. If I’m good, I will pay more attention to trainings. If I’m not, I will just enjoy the achieved level. My country will take care of me and will give me an opportunity to afford such “pleasure” trainings.” For some of them sprint is a hobby. Some of them achieve good results at the local level performing time of 10.4-10.2 seconds in 100-meters dash, and think that it is good enough. Those who are highly motivated progress further and sometimes take prizes at international level. But most of such sprinters don’t even reach a 10-second barrier let alone 9.8-9.7 second time which is necessary for major competitions.
So there are no good selection process and no high competing environment in such a system.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association
One more model is when business interferes with sports and government doesn’t take part in the process simply providing the athletes with conditions. Such model is developed in the USA. Besides professional sports, there is a unique system of university sports organization which gives birth to a huge amount of world-famous stars in athletics. The National Collegiate Athletic Association sports are fantastically popular and widely covered on television and in press. Even world-known bookmakers provide lines for bets on NCAA leagues. No country in the world can boast of such situation. College teams receive huge money from their team sponsors and are interested in achieving high results attracting well-trained athletes. It means that skilled athletes receive scholarships which cover expenses on study and living. For many of them such way is the only chance to enter a university. Thus athletes who competed for a university team are highly motivated in achieving good results. They don’t just train, they secure stability of their lives. Very often at NCAA championships college athletes achieve higher results than professional athletes of other countries.
There is one more positive aspect of the USA model. Several sport events are extremely popular in the United States. These are football, basketball, baseball, hockey, track and field and some others. Almost all universities have their own teams for participating in these sports. If an athlete at the beginning of his career chooses some event, and some time later it turns out that he is much better in some other event, he can simply change an event within the same university. There are many such examples among Olympic champions at sprint events. Marion Jones who was member of her university basketball team, later became the fastest woman in the world. Famous sprinter Ato Boldon started his career playing soccer. Jim Hines used to be a baseball player in his early years. Eddie Tolan won Michigan state football championships as a high school boy. Much more examples could be mentioned.
Such conditions give an opportunity to find out really talented athletes, and hard competition compels them to develop their skills very fast. Yesterday’s NCAA champions become top world athletes today. Now it is John Capel, Shawn Crawford, Justin Gatlin, Jeremy Wariner and Lauryn Williams. In future there will be new stars and the National Collegiate Athletic Association model will never fail.
It’s worth mentioning that Caribbean athletes are good too. But note that many of them studied in American universities.
One might ask why American athletes are not so good at long distance running as they are at sprint events. The answer is simple – they like action. It’s much more interesting for them to watch a 100-meter race during 10 seconds than wait for the end of a 10-kilometers race for a half of an hour. They are crazy about eye-catching shows. And what could be more eye-catching than short-distance running? It’s not just a part of running or athletics, it’s another kind of sport, where limits of human body performance come out. That’s why they just go and grab world and Olympic titles in sprint and left the rest of events for the others.
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