Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/389

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

NOVEMBER, 1908




DEDUCTIONS FROM THE RECORDS OF RUNNING IN THE LAST OLYMPIAD
By Professor A. E. KENNELLY

HARVARD UNIVERSITY

IT is much to be regretted that after all the races held in the ancient days of Greece and Rome, when the laurel crown of victory was the height of ambition in youthful manhood, we have no means of comparing the achievements of their runners with our own. We shall never know how their track speeds compare with those of modern times, because records did not become possible until after the invention and development of the portable chronometer.

The olympiads, or quadrennial athletic meetings of ancient Greece, were held in such national renown, that they served as historical epochs for the chronological establishment of events. Owing, however, to the absence of sufficiently precise instruments for measuring and recording time, each race or speed-contest, although an event of great momentary importance, was necessarily cut off from all comparison with similar preceding or succeeding races. The victor in each race overcame the opponents who contested with him shoulder to shoulder; but there could be no means of determining whether the victor of a given event in one olympiad excelled the victor in other olympiads.

With the introduction of the stop-watch, races ceased to be merely momentary efforts for mastery in speed. To the interest of the local and passing contest was added the new interest of the perennial contest, and of the record. In the racing of the finest horses, the record has come to be regarded as the principal event, and the winning of the race as the secondary event, after the excitement of the occasion has subsided. In the racing of the swiftest men, the record is gaining in importance; but we still attach principal attention to the winning of