In 1896 Charilaos Vasilakos won the first modern marathon, a qualifying race for Greece’s Olympic team, with a time of three hours and eighteen minutes. Today that would not even qualify him for the Boston Marathon. Since the beginning of the modern Olympic Games world records in every sport have advanced sharply, driven by factors as disparate as global conflicts, social change, technological improvements and changing rules.
The general upward trend in performance is largely due to advances in our understanding of fitness, conditioning, diet and nutrition, says Mark Williams, a professor of sport, health and exercise science at Brunel University in London.
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