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Sports being played at their highest ever standard (and not)

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    Sports being played at their highest ever standard (and not)

    I got thinking about this watching the darts. Michael van Gerwen may never be considered the Greatest of All Time in terms of numbers of titles - no-one will ever match Phil Taylor's 16 - but his 3-dart averages in recent tournaments are matching and arguably eclipsing anything Taylor ever threw. Indeed, all of MvG's last four tournament averages feature in the all-time top eight (including both of the top two); only two of Taylor's are in that list.

    Objective comparisons are easier in sports for which directly comparable statistics are available, obviously. In athletics, for example, it's stark that all the women's sprint records have stood since the 1980s (and we all know why). I hadn't realised though that Hicham El-Gerrouj 's 1500m record has stood s for 20 years, or that Kenenisa Benkele's middle distance records have stood for 15. Is it fair to say those events are not at the standard they were 20 years ago? It was my naive assumption that athletics was improving year on year in all events, but this appears not to be the case.

    And for other sports? Personally I think the standard, in terms of sheer pace, tactical organisation, athleticism and indeed skill (of the very best players at least) in football at the moment is of a standard that has never been seen before. I would say the same of both men's and women's tennis (although have both hit a peak with the generation now moving on that might not be reached again?). Golf's a bit like darts in that while no players are dominating like Tiger did for a decade, that's partly because almost all the top players are now routinely doing the things that made Tiger look superhuman twenty years ago.

    I reckon the most subjective ones to judge in this, ironically, are going to be the sports surrounded by, indeed wallowing in, the most statistics of all, baseball and cricket. Are today's playing standards higher than in the 1990s? Or even the 1940s?
    Last edited by Rogin the Armchair fan; 06-01-2019, 09:01.

    #2
    I can't talk for any other sport, but in darts one of the big factors to take into account is the board technology. Eric Bristow and John Lowe were throwing at board with massive wires and staples, whereas MVG hasn't had to do that. The surface area they're now throwing at for the T20 is (in relative terms) much bigger than even 15-20 years ago. Phil Taylor was throwing 100 averages, albeit not consistently, on those boards as well. There are much fewer bounce-outs now as well, not just because of the smaller wires, but with the different types of points that you can get on darts.

    That's not to say that MVG isn't the most naturally talented player I've seen though - when he's on form he's frightening.

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      #3
      It is a massive coincidence that all those endurance records were set at the same time as EPO was available but not detectable isn't it?

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        #4
        It's always worth turning to Ross Tucker for answers to questions like this:

        https://sportsscientists.com/2016/08...cords-fossils/

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          #5
          Snooker.

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            #6
            I was going to mention snooker but thought someone would. Not only does the standard of everyone in the top ten now seem as high as all but possibly the very best of the past, but haven't they (in the opposite way to darts described above) made the game a lot harder in terms of tighter pockets etc?

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              #7
              Swimming I reckon is in both highest ever, and not.
              I never could understand how new records can be broken so often and so many at every event in swimming. Every world championship or Olympic game, another 4-5 world records are broken and it has been like that for many years now. It's peculiar because you would think that swimming could be compared to athletics in the sense it’s all up to the human and little to do with any equipment. Granted there’s something like 20 events in swimming counting relays, then double that for men and women and you have 40 events. That’s less number of events than athletics. Still they break records in swimming like they’re oiling the body a bit more every time with Clark Griswald’s sled wax or something, ahead of every new big one.

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                #8
                Men's tennis until about 3 years ago, of course.

                The change in golf is so much about the change in club technology, making long courses seem short for the pros.

                I'd think the change in equipment technology also applies to many other sports (although cycling, which might be the most obvious one, does have some pretty chunky question marks for any comparisons over the last half century)...

                One interesting thing in athletics is how the long jump in particular has gone backwards as fewer and fewer sprinters are doubling up, and nobody super fast picks the long jump over the 100m.

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                  #9
                  Snooker, definitely, yes. It's the Masters next week - hurrah, I love the Masters - and last year's tournament saw 28 centuries scored. The 1980s are supposedly the golden era of the game but the 1989 edition saw all of three centuries made - two by Hendry and one for Davis, and the biggest of those was all of 119 for the former. It's not quite a like for like comparison as the match lengths are slightly longer now - best of 11s in the first couple of rounds rather than best of 9 and the final is best of 19 not best of 17 - but these century figures are both very much representative of their era, neither is an outlier.

                  If pockets have been tightened its only very slightly, the professionals play with smaller pockets than you'll find in your local and there's always a slight suspicion that the pockets are a shade larger for the big tournaments. What has changed technologically is the cloth, the fabric is now much finer and a tighter nap compared to the past and the table will also be refitted more regularly during a tournament. There's also the new "magic chalk" that's come along in the last couple of years that supposedly reduces kicks. World Snooker has put a lot of effort into trying to improve table quality, at the Champion of Champions the other week they used a table from a Chinese manufacturer that looked absolutely hideous but all the players agreed that it played really well.

                  Ross Tucker is a conspiracy theorist dickhead who gets a baffling amount of media attention, by the way.

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                    #10
                    Are you serious about Ross Tucker, Longeared? To me, he's always seemed to come to reasonable conclusions based on available data.

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                      #11
                      Tucker is notorious in his work on cycling for cherry picking data to suit his general anti-Sky narrative. He's also got form for getting very shirty when people review his work and call him out on his selective data. Maybe he's more reasoned and objective in his analysis of other sports but I find him a glorified troll.

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                        #12
                        Am I right in believing that horses have stopped getting faster?

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                          #13
                          You've not seen Lord of the Rings trilogy where they ride over two nations in 5 minutes.

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                            #14
                            Perhaps the only element of cricket that might have been superior "back in the day" was keeping wicket to spin bowling.* Everything else is better, for all the usual reasons in sport (equipment, practice, nutrition etc).

                            *in the sense that you still have to do it today, whereas batting on a sticky may be a lost art, but is no longer needed.

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                              #15
                              I don't know about horses in general, but Secretariat still holds the Belmont Stakes (and North American mile and a half) record he set in 1973.

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                                #16
                                Originally posted by Sporting View Post
                                Am I right in believing that horses have stopped getting faster?
                                I finished Ed Smith’s ‘What Sport Tells Us About Life’ on holiday and it has a chapter mirroring this thread called ‘Why There Will Never Be Another Bradman’.

                                This is what he says about racehorses

                                Racehorses seem already to have reached that physical limit. Like human athletes, for years their speed records steadily improved. From 1850 to 1930, the winning times for the Derby dropped from 2:55 to 2:39. But then horses simply stopped getting faster. From 1986 to 1996, the average time stayed at 2:39. Racehorses, unlike humans (so far as I know), are specifically bred to run. The stud industry seeks to preserve the best genes and match them with perfect partners. So generations of professional genetic selection have ensured that today’s elite racehorse has every conceivable speed characteristic. But you can only go so far. You can only breed horses with ultralight thin bones to a particular point; the bones will crack under stress if they get any lighter.
                                With regard to Bradman, his argument is too detailed to quote in full but it’s summarised here :

                                Three reasons: better defence, more information and a higher level of base achievement." Sides are better at preventing the scoring of runs, there is much better information about the opposition and where those runs might be scored, and the less accomplished players are better than they used to be.

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                                  #17
                                  In hockey, I would say the Red Army Five. With Tretiak behind them.
                                  Makarov, Larionov, Fetisov, Kasatonov, Krutov

                                  I don't think that level of perfection will ever be reached again in hockey. Ever.



                                  Anyone who enjoys hockey should watch the documentary.

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                                    #18
                                    Agreed, though Tretiak would need to learn contemporary technique. It is fun to think about what they could do with contemporary skates, sticks and pads.

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                                      #19
                                      Track records in the US have been broken by horses running in low grade claiming races so judging them purely on speed doesn't tell you that much. The two highest rated Flat horses ever are Frankel and Sea-Bird, and the respective winning times for their 2000 Guineas and Derby victories never broke any records. Secretariat's Belmont was both visually and on the clock a other worldly performance, and has UA mentioned it still stands as the race record and likely always will do (this is down to modern breeding more than anything), but then he is regarded by most in the US as the greatest horse of the last century along with Man o' War.

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                                        #20
                                        I think they would be just as brilliant and overwhelmingly butcher the rest of the lot. About a hundred years before Barcelona thought they invented TikiTaka, this five played it. Only, much, much faster.

                                        Edit: To ursus

                                        If you could exchange Tretiak for Hasek, you would have the perfect hockey side skating onto the ice. Hasek was way ahead of any keeper in the world in the mid 80's, where the rest started to pick up from his stuff in the early 90's.
                                        Last edited by Pietro Paolo Virdis; 06-01-2019, 18:09.

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                                          #21
                                          This question poses a new; which world record in sports is the oldest one yet to be broken?

                                          We can obviously have that discussion "what is a sport?", but if we forget about that for tonight?

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                                            #22
                                            Cricket seems to have been at its toughest around the Packer era up to the end of the 90s. In other words, the last 20 years have been lower in standard than the previous 20. Reasons would include, in the last 20 years, flatter wickets, heavier bats, fewer bowlers of genuine pace, the extreme decline of West Indies, and the erosion of technique by T20 (see Australia's current batting).

                                            Peak team has to be West Indies 1976-1991. Not just batting and quick bowling but fielding. This is supported by the world ratings that have been backdated historically.

                                            Bradman, I dunno. Video technology could be used to find weaknesses. OTOH he still scored runs during the bodyline series but then again the reaction against fast bowling after Bodyline meant he had an easy time for the rest of his career.

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                                              #23
                                              No idea, but archery maybe? Or one of the shooting specialities? Or skiing?

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                                                #24
                                                I think the oldest world record is going to be that woman who caught the world's largest trout or salmon or carp in about 1890. Of course, a large contributory factor to why that's a record is that since then we've fished our rivers clean of fish.

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                                                  #25
                                                  Re: cricket, is there any solid evidence that bowlers now are not as fast as they used to be in the good old days?

                                                  Just glancing at the Australian attack, which has two bowlers 150kmh plus, one 145kmh plus. Very rare for them to have such a wealth of pace.

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