Wednesday, July 8, 2015

More on Justin Gatlin's Age-Defying Times

The graph's above (click to enlarge) show the age progression of times for the 10 fastest male sprinters for the 100m and 200m. The black curve shows a 3-year moving average for the top 10 and the gray curves show plus and minus one standard deviation (for all three curves, they are minus Justin Gatlin). The red curve shows Gatlin's times.

All data comes from the IAAF. I am experimenting with ways to display the data, so suggestions are welcome. I am happy to take requests for visualization alternatives.

What the data show are how anomalous Gatlin's improvement is after the age of 30. In short, nothing like it has ever been observed in elite sprinting at these distances. I have collected similar data for all male and female sprint and middle distances and will be working my way through these data in the coming days and weeks. Upon a first examination I can find no comparable case to Gatlin's -- male or female, at any distance. In sprints, the fastest runners almost always slow down by the time they are 30, usually sooner than that,  and women appear to be a bit more durable than the men, but not by much.

Sport is often celebrated for those who can do what no one has ever done before. Gatlin's history of doping suspensions raises suspicions, which are unfortunate for him and also the sport. For now, the data show that we are witnessing something remarkable. It is remarkable if Gatlin is perfectly clean, but it is also remarkable if he is not as well as if he and others are not.

It is not clear how this story will end.


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