The idea of the record
This paper examines the idea of the sports record and its relation to our ideas of excellence, achievement and progress. It begins by recovering and reviewing the work of Richard Mandell, whose definition of the record emphasizes three central ideas: statistic, athletic and recognition. It then considers the work of Henning Eichberg, Allen Guttmann and Mandell, from the 1970s onwards, on the genesis of the modern sports record, explaining and developing their ideas via a distinction between descriptive and emulative records, and between different kinds of emulative records. This then permits an analysis of contemporary athletic and sports records. The idea of the significant record will also be advanced, offering the four-minute mile as an example, in an attempt to explicate our continuing fascination with such exceptional achievements. It then considers the contribution of recent discussions of sport technologies and the logic of quantifiable progress, and tries to put our obsession with records in perspective as but one way in which we respond to and evaluate sporting performance.
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