One of the many joys of the Olympics is the opportunity they give us to point and laugh at the slower, lower, and weaker athletes of yesteryear. As it turns out, this exercise in smugness is nearly as old as the games themselves. The diagrams above—from a 1913 edition of the Evening World—showcase some "modern" athletic records, compared with the feeble attempts of 19th-century Olympians. A five-foot, 11-inch high jump? The athletes of 1913 crushed that shit, hitting six feet, four inches (the current record is over eight feet). A 36-foot, four-inch shot putt? Pathetic, says 1912 gold medalist Pat McDonald, who threw 50 feet, four inches (the current record is almost 76 feet).

The best part of the graphic, though, is that it captures the old-school techniques that in part accounted for these 1910s records getting so soundly shattered. High-jumpers started going backward over the bar in 1968. Shot putters started spinning in 1972, although some use a "glide" technique, from 1951.

It's a good reminder not to get too cocky. In a couple decades, gravity-trained athletes will probably discover a new way to jump that lets you clear a nine-foot bar. It wasn't so long ago that it looked as if we were approaching the limit of human sprint speed, and then Usain Bolt ran a sub-9.6. In 2114, all of today's records are going to sound dumb.


Here's the graphic in the full context of the page (click here for a much larger version):

[Evening World, via Visual Loop]