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Faster athletes, slower spectators and the Olympic marathon

Photo by Dave Catchpole

In the lead-up to the Olympics, AAA member Greg Downey wrote a piece on the Huffington Post, asking whether the Olympic movement has really succeeded in promoting “sport for all,” or has instead become an increasingly professional offering for a passive spectatorship. The marathon, in particular, is a telling case study, as it was run for the first time in the 1896 Olympics in Greece, the inaugural games of the modern Olymiad. He writes about the winner of that first marathon, Greek water carrier, Spyridon Louis:

And yet, at the same time that the margins between Olympic finishers may be a hair’s breadth, the gap between the athletes and the spectator public is growing. Spyridon Louis was a true amateur. His first ‘marathon’ was his qualifying race, about two weeks prior to his Olympic performance. Today’s Olympic contenders are dedicated professionals, physiologically worlds’ apart from most of the spectators, who are growing increasingly sedentary.
Sure, the number of amateur participants at marathons is swelling, but on average, marathon runners are going slower. It’s very hard to imagine today, especially in the Western world, that someone could run a sub-three-hour marathon in their second attempt, two weeks after their first marathon.

Read the entire piece on the Huffington Post. Downey also expands on his blog post over on his blog, Neuroanthropology.

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