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Track records often broken by chance

Sunday, July 21, 2002

When top athletes spring off their starting blocks, their success at breaking records depends more on chance than on systematic improvements in their sport, a new study suggests.

Random elements like wind, climate, altitude or just an athlete who was better prepared than others on competition day dictate when records will fall in most track and field events, researchers conclude.

The statistical analysis was reported in the journal Nature by researchers at the Research Center Juelich in Juelich, Germany, King's College London in England and the University of Dortmund in Germany.

They devised a formula to take sports records from one period and forecast a range in which future records would fall if no systematic improvements occurred. They concluded that records falling within that range were attributable to chance.

When they applied their formula to the record books, they concluded that chance was usually the reason for new records in track and field.

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