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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Sports Records

Aired January 3, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Unbreakable records broken, unequaled streaks surpassed -- sports in millennium 2000: the next records to fall, the ultimate limits to beat.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Bernard Shaw.

WOODRUFF: And I'm Judy Woodruff.

We continue CNN's Millennium coverage 2000 this half hour with a look at sports, how it's evolved and what we can expect in the future. Top sportscaster Bob Costas will be our guest in just a few minutes.

But first, as athletic records are broken and broken again, we wonder how much better can athletes get? We pitched that question to CNN's Jeff Flock.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Ryun's astonishing kick did it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What is it like being the fastest man in the world?

JIM RYUN, FMR. WORLD MILE RECORD HOLDER: When it's happening to you, I don't think you necessarily have a true appreciation of it. It's only after you've had a time to reflect on it that you can look back and say, it really happened.

FLOCK: What made you special?

GALE SAYERS, PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAMER: The God-given talent that I had. That's the only thing I can attribute it to. I had a lot of talent.

BONNIE BLAIR, 5-TIME OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: There's probably nothing quite like crossing the finish line and seeing the clock read numbers that you have never seen before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Michael Johnson has a big lead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLOCK (voice-over): As a thousand years of athletic achievement comes to an end, we wonder what are the limits of human performance?

(on camera): How fast can we run or skate or swim? How much weight can we lift? How high can we jump? While no one knows exactly what those limits are, we do know that they are being tested and pushed every day right here.

This is the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want the bar to go up level.

FLOCK (voice-over): Here, researchers calculate the amount of force weightlifters can exert without ripping a tendon or dislocating an elbow. They test a sophisticated timing system that enables athletes to press the limits of reaction time in track or skating competitions.

The national volleyball team experiments with new weight training techniques to push the limits of their spiking power.

LLOY BALL, CAPT., U.S. MEN'S VOLLEYBALL TEAM: My vertical has increased, my power has increased, stamina has increased.

FLOCK (on camera): You're a better player.

BALL: Exactly.

FLOCK (voice-over): But where does all this pushing end up? What are the limits? No one will ever run faster than 10.1 seconds for the hundred meters, predicted University of California track coach Brutus Hamilton in 1934. He also said the absolute limit in the high jump was six feet, 11 inches, the mile for any human the equivalent of about 4.02. By 1960, all of those marks had fallen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: His new world record was three minutes, 51 and one-tenth seconds.

Jim Ryun held the world mile record longer than anyone in history.

(on camera): Coming off that last turn, do you know what you're doing? Do you know that you're about to break a world record?

RYUN: I knew I was running fast, but I didn't expect it to be a world record.

FLOCK (voice-over): Ryun, now a U.S. congressman from Kansas, finds it hard to believe the record could go much lower. It's taken seven men more than three decades to shave eight seconds from the mark Ryun first set in 1966. Roger Bannister, though, the world's first sub-four-minute man and the "Sports Illustrated"'s "Sportsman of the Year" in 1955, tells the magazine today that he expects runners to one day reach the three and a half minute level.

(on camera): What is the limit in the mile? It's got to be somewhere, right?

RYUN: Sure, but where is it? I don't know. We'll continue to improve, and, where? I don't know.

FLOCK (voice-over): But why not a three-minute mile or faster?

RALPH MANN, FORMER OLYMPIC MEDALIST: Of course you can't go faster than zero.

FLOCK: A latter-day Brutus Hanilton, former Olympic medalist Ralph Mann, has put together a computer model analyzing 15 performance factors of sprinters and extrapolated a "supersprinter."

MANN: Actually, that's what you see on the screen right here. This is a model performance. It has all the best characteristics of the greatest sprinters ever. And we just essentially turned it loose and determined how fast it would perform.

FLOCK: The time it came up with: 9.58 seconds for the 100-meter dash. That's about two-tenths of a second faster than the current world record Maurice Green shown here winning the Goodwill Games.

If a miler like Jim Ryun ran at that theoretical fastest pace, he would reach the finish in just over two and a half minutes. But that doesn't take into account the fact that right now nobody's blood can carry enough oxygen to the muscles to keep them working at that pace. Lactic acid would also build up in the leg muscles and bring on fatigue.

Here at the Olympic training center, they are measuring the lactate levels and heart rates of U.S. Olympic champion triathlete Nick Radkiewich. It is mainly training that improves the ability of the blood to carry oxygen and clear the lactic acid. But there are limits to how much beating a body can take.

NICK RADKIEWICH, U.S. NATIONAL TRIATHALON TEAM: There's so much training involved, almost 60 hours a week sometimes. The heart rate that we got today, that will determine exactly where I should be every day so I'm not wasting any time and I'm not, you know, what we call "garbage miles."

FLOCK: Still, in most sports there seems to be plenty of room for improvement before any realistic physical limits are reached.

BART CONNER, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: The skills that I competed and the hardest skills that I did 15 years ago are merely warm-up exercises for most of the best gymnasts now in the world.

FLOCK: In speed skating, only one world record, either men's or women's, dates as far back as 1987.

BLAIR: We haven't seen them come close to the limits that they can go yet. FLOCK: But as former 500 meter world record-holder Bonnie Blair explains, the records have been set since the advent of the so-called "clap" skates that allow speed skaters to lift their foot from the blade and, simply put, skate faster.

BLAIR: To me, I love the pureness of the sport that we had with the old skates. It was really just you, the ice, your skates and the clock. And now, you've really added another element in there. And that part of it I don't like.

FLOCK: Jesse Owens, here winning the 1936 Olympic trials, once set six world records in one day, that with equipment and conditions that would now be considered deplorable: the track, the training methods, the shoes.

BILL JAUSS, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE" SPORTSWRITER: They were just spikes like nails on the bottom of a shoe. And at that time, they didn't have starting blocks. And the runners had to dig little trenches in the cinders themselves.

FLOCK: The winningest coach in the history of pro basketball says if yesterday's athlete had today's advantages there is no telling what the records might be.

LENNY WILKINS, ATLANTA HAWKS HEAD COACH: Because he would be exposed to the strength and conditioning programs. He'd be exposed to the new equipment or whatever.

FLOCK: But better equipment, training and conditions haven't necessarily pushed the limits in all sports. About a hundred miles an hour is, was and according to some, always will be as fast as you can throw a baseball.

LEO MAZZONE, ATLANTA BRAVES PITCHING COACH: I tell you what, I don't really think you can throw any hard harder than what you're doing right now.

FLOCK: Gale Sayers, who still holds the record for most touchdowns in a pro football game, says his sport is not necessarily better. When he played, there were 14 NFL teams. He points out that there are now 31.

SAYERS: People say, well, there's parity. To me, that's not parity. That's mediocre football, because you don't have enough players out there to be good.

FLOCK: But even in events largely unchanged by equipment, records continue to fall. This is one of the newest world records, a 2:05:42 marathon by Morocco's Khalid Khannouchi set in Chicago last October.

Just how fast can we go?

DR. ROBERT GOLDMAN, NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SPORTS MEDICINE: I think the limit will end up being how important that particular record is to the people who are training for it. FLOCK: Genetic engineering is coming to sports, says surgeon and sports medicine expert Bob Goldman, who has himself held more than 20 world strength records, including 321 consecutive handstand push-ups and 13,500 consecutive situps. He thinks the mapping of the human genome will one day lead to the creation of "superathletes," who are not only healthier but better proportioned and more athletically gifted.

GOLDMAN: You're going to have your 450-pound ballplayers that are seven feet tall. You're going to have people that are running at remarkable speeds with low body percentage fat and massive muscle.

REGGIE MILLER, INDIANA PACERS: As of now, it's an even playing field. But 20, 30 years from now, yes, I'm scared to see what basketball is going to look like. I think your point guard will be seven feet and your power forward might be eight feet. You know, your center might be 10 feet. You never know.

FLOCK: But will breeding for strength, speed, size make athletes perform better? Not if you consider the one group of competitors already systematically bred for speed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Here they come, spinning out of the turn...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLOCK: Despite the best of breeding and burgeoning purses, the winning times at these tracks haven't improved since the 1950s. The Kentucky Derby winner in 1931 ran faster than last year's champ.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: He's got it. He's got it. World record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLOCK: Most human records have continued to progress with a few exceptions. Consider that, though retired since 1995, until last year, Bonnie Blair still held the American record in the 500 meters.

Gale Sayers, famous for football, still holds the Nebraska state high school record in the long jump.

And Jim Ryun, first schoolboy under four minutes for the mile, still has the national high school record set in this race in 1965.

More marks to shoot at in the new millennium.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SHAW: And when we come back, from world records to the World Series, he's reported on most of the major sports events of the past 20 years.

WOODRUFF: We will talk with Bob Costas, live from St. Louis, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Sports: Sports has been very good to Bob Costas, and he's returned the favor. A network television fixture for 20 years, Costas has covered every major sport, but he specialized in the Olympics and Major League Baseball. His own box score includes 12 Emmys and seven National Sportcaster of the Year awards. We're pleased to welcome him to CNN's millennial coverage of the history and future of athletics.

Bob, from Major League Baseball to the Olympics, in this millennium of sports, are no records safe?

BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTSCASTER: Well, I think you really have to make a distinction between team sports and the type of sports that Jeff Flock focused on in his piece, which are mostly Olympic sports -- track and field, swimming, that kind of thing. Because of the way the game has changed, be it basketball, football, baseball, there are probably records that are unassailable not because the athletes aren't as good but because the conditions are different.

No one starts every other game in baseball anymore or pitches 35 complete games, so no one's ever going to win 511 career games like Cy Young did. And no one's going to bat .300 four times like Roger -- or rather .400 three times like Rogers Hornsby or Ty Cobb did. It's been since 1941 that anyone hit over .400, Ted Williams being the last man to do it. So circumstances make certain records unreachable. I don't think anyone's going to score a hundred points in an NBA game or average 50 points in a season, as Wilt Chamberlain did, even if they're as gifted athletically or even more gifted than people like that.

SHAW: So, scan the past hundred years and please tell us your athlete of the century and your reasons why?

COSTAS: Well, I was on some of those panels for all of those decade- and century-ending lists. I voted for Jackie Robinson, which surprised some people. But I thought that he combined the three criteria that were important to me. One was excellence in his primary sport. That would probably be his lowest score, but he was still obviously a great baseball player -- not the greatest of all time, but a Hall of Famer.

All around ability, only Jim Thorpe could compare with him. Many people said baseball was his fourth-best sport. He was a terrific football player and basketball player at UCLA and would have been a track man in the Olympics, had there been an Olympics in 1940 or 1944.

And the third criteria was social significance, and I would say he was the most socially significant athlete of the century. WOODRUFF: Bob Costas, I think a lot of people would agree with you on that.

I want to ask you about a broader sports question. Has the whole idea of sports in this country become too much of a business and not enough individual human competition? I mean, look at these football owners firing coaches practically by the dozens. You've got so many teams out there. Is this something that's here to say?

COSTAS: And franchise extortion, where teams pick up and move or extort their communities in order to stay and get them to pay for all or most of the stadiums when the owners are already billionaires in some cases, or nearly billionaires, and the players, most of them are millionaires.

It's a dispiriting state of affairs, but sometimes when you can just get to that pearl in the oyster, the competition itself -- take the Olympics, for example. We all know that all kinds of hypocrisy and hype surrounds the Olympics. Corruption has been exposed recently, and it's not the first time that it's happened over the history of the Olympics. But when you get down to that moment when a Michael Johnson gets into the starting blocks, and you know he's prepared four years for this one moment on center stage, which is what the Olympics are for a track and field athlete, and all of those years and hours of preparation are going to come down to less than 20 seconds, for example, in the 200 meters, man, there's a drama about that that's just compelling, and people are drawn to it.

WOODRUFF: Just a quick question here before we have to go to a break. Why aren't women's sports celebrated as much as men's, women athletes?

SHAW: I do think that's changing. Look at the World Cup soccer team in 1999, the softball team, the women's basketball team at the Olympics in '96, the focus on gymnastics, and something the set-up piece didn't touch upon but I think is important. I think you will see larger advances in women's sports because they have a longer distance to come. The emphasis has not been there until this post- Title Nine generation. And I think that the records, for the most part, in women's sports will be improved upon by larger percentages than men's sports in the next 20 years or so.

SHAW: Up next, how hard can we push the human body to break the next record?

WOODRUFF: We will talk with Bob Costas still and with a top training expert when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back.

We're talking with network sportscaster Bob Costas about the state of athletics on the cusp of the 21st century. And joining our discussion is Dr. Ben Levine, a cardiologist, physiologist and director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, in Texas.

Dr. Levine, how much stronger, how much faster can the human body get?

DR. BEN LEVINE, UT SOUTHWESTERN MEDICAL CENTER: Well, it's a great question. I've enjoyed listening to the presentation so far.

I think it depends on what you're talking about. Are you talking about running faster as a sprinter? Are you talking about running the same speeds over a marathon? And the answer would depend on the question. So, for example, you heard that if you were to run a world record pace for 100 meters for a mile, you could run a mile in two and a half minutes. On the other hand, if you were to run the world record pace in the mile for 26 miles in a marathon, that would be an hour and 37 minutes or so.

So there are, I think, physiological limits to any of these questions that you're asking.

WOODRUFF: But what about when some of the speed comes from elements outside the human body, for example in speed skating the so- called "clapper" skates.

LEVINE: Sure.

WOODRUFF: Is it the time same when you're using a device to speed up the human body?

LEVINE: Well, of course. I think that if you're talking about technology or technique, there's always the opportunity to improve those substantially. I think the clap skate is a good example.

Another great example is skating technique in cross country skiing. When Bill Koch started skating instead of doing classic skiing, he revolutionized the sport, requiring two separate competitions. So you never know what the next great leap or advance in either technology or technique is going to be.

Now when you're talking about physiology, that's a little bit different because we all still have the same bodies. And developing different training techniques, both for training and for recovery, which may be just as important, allows the human body to get stronger and to run faster or lift more weight.

SHAW: Bob Costas, with your plan to host the summer and winter Olympics upcoming, I'm wondering what's the most extraordinary record to be set, in your judgment, and which sport?

COSTAS: Well, it no longer stands, but it stood for more than 20 years. In 1968, Bob Beamon of the United States in the Mexico City Olympics broke the long jump record by around two feet. That's just preposterous. The air is thin in Mexico City, that gave him something of an advantage. He also got off the jump of his life. All the elements came together in a perfect way, and he went over 29 feet. And it took Mike Powell, in a great duel with Carl Lewis in 1991 in Tokyo -- what, it's 23 years later before somebody finally eclipsed Bob Beaman's record. It stood for so long and it moved so far past what was then the existing record that people had to check the distance repeatedly before they were sure that it actually had been done.

SHAW: Staying on track, will there ever be another Flo-Jo?

COSTAS: Well, a lot of people say that she set records that are unreachable, at least in our lifetime, for a woman. And I say this with great care: There are people who believe that performance- enhancing drugs are involved. That's not an accusation. I'm simply saying that that is part of the discussion, even if it's a whispered part of the discussion.

And I'm sure that Dr. Levine would agree that one of the variables here when we talk about records is to what extent are performance enhancing drugs involved? Some of the records that were set by athletes from the Eastern European countries back before the Soviet bloc broke up, some of those records may stand into the future because performance-enhancing drugs were involved.

LEVINE: I think that's right, Bob.

You know, there is the issue of systematic, societal, determined training like the East Germans used to do, with the use of modern training techniques and also with performance-enhancing substances.

I don't know, though, that it's fair to say that there never will be another of any particular athlete. I think that's probably a great leap as well. There's always the opportunity to have someone else, and, in fact, it's almost certain that there will always will someone else who will run just a little bit faster or be just a little bit stronger.

And one of the things that was raised in the previous section was about genetics and how will genetic selection be used? You know, we're only now learning of certain kinds of genes that regulate muscle growth and development. And we can identify those genes. In fact, a group in England has shown that certain kinds of Olympic athletes have a certain gene -- a combination of genes that make the heart get bigger. And, of course, at least for endurance athletes, having a big and flexible heart is one of the most important factors to get blood to muscles and let your muscles work hard.

So being able to select those kind of traits may be very important. What you can't select, though, for is heart -- in a different way. That is motivation and intensity, commitment. I'd certainly hate to see decisions made on children because they did or didn't have a particular set of genetic traits.

WOODRUFF: Well, that, in fact, you raise a point that I want to ask both of you. How much of a success in an athlete is due to just raw talent, and how much of it is due to the extraordinary determination, will, just the willingness to sacrifice everything else to practice, practice, practice? I want to ask both of you, Dr. Levine and Bob Costas. LEVINE: Sure. If you don't mind, let me say I think there's no doubt that both are absolutely essential. We've recently -- the Heritage Heart Study, which is -- the Heritage Training Study, which is being run by Claude Bouchard out of Louisiana is showing us that maybe half of the trainability of an athlete may be dependent on their genes. What -- do they have the training gene? But that leaves a whole half of motivation and intensity, commitment, that shouldn't be underestimated.

WOODRUFF: And Bob?

COSTAS: Well, I'd want to start with the talent. You know, you could give me all the heart and determination in the world, I still can't play in the NBA. But if you get that incredible combination that a guy like Michael Jordan exemplified, remarkable talent -- if he was not the most physically gifted, he was certainly on the short list of the most physically gifted plays of his era -- and then he combined it with an unconquerable will and determination -- just kept coming at you, kept coming at you -- and he was keenly intelligent in terms of the way he approached the game and the way he saw the total game. That combination of factors made Michael Jordan what he was, not mere talent.

SHAW: Very succinctly to both of you, what do you most passionately want to see in sports -- Dr. Levine?

LEVINE: Oh, gosh, I guess I'd like to see the best individuals competing on an open playing field and a fair playing field, with as few performance-enhancing substances as possible and the best possible training, putting people on the track or on the field together on an even field.

COSTAS: That's just what I was going to say, Bernie, a level playing field, meaning the absence of performance-enhancing drugs that we're talking about -- the Olympic-style sports and, in fact, in team sports -- and also the elimination of economic disparities, such as those that plague baseball, so teams in every market will have a reasonable shot at winning the pennant.

WOODRUFF: And a final question for both of you. In terms of our children today, what should we be doing with them today in terms of sports and athletics to get them prepared for the kind of athletics we ought to be celebrating in the next century?

COSTAS: Participate to the best level of your ability, but don't make sports the most important thing in your life unless you become a world-class athlete. And it will be pretty clear fairly early in life if you have the ability to be that.

LEVINE: I agree 100 percent, and I think the key for most parents is to make sure that the kids are having fun, particularly early on. If they don't have fun. they're not going to be any good at it.

WOODRUFF: All right, great advice for all of us. Thank you Dr. Ben Levine and Bob Costas, we appreciate it. COSTAS: Thanks.

LEVINE: Pleasure.

WOODRUFF: Thank you both.

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