How do track stars only set records in large events?

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Do they just finally put out all their effort at one event, or have they ran the event that fast before it just didn’t count unless they were in a massive race?

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It’s kinda both. A lot of governing bodies won’t allow records to be set unless certain levels of official are being used (don’t want an incorrect record going into the books because the local staff were sloppy) and those are often only going to be present at the bigger events. But also you’ve only got so many all-out efforts in you and top competitors will often plan to put in a worse result in smaller events (because they don’t need to go 100% to get what they need out of the meet, and they might not be ready to hit personal bests anyway).

The massive events have official timekeepers and all that to log it as an “official time”. If I run a record 100m sprint, but it’s just my own coach who times me.. then it won’t be logged as an official time.

I ran cross country for 6 years. I can tell you with extreme certainty that the caliber of your competition has a huge impact on the caliber of your performance. But on top of that, there’s likely some selection bias. There are Olympic records and world records. Of course, with Olympic records being more selective than world records, they’re almost guaranteed to be lower, and therefore, easier to beat.

The next thing I’m not as confident on, but stage is probably important too. I learned in psychology the difference between distress and eustress. There are athletes who are able to take the stress of performing under pressure and turn it into motivation to perform even better. I would think that is random among amateur athletes, but to make it to the world’s stage, you have to be the best in many categories. And people don’t realize just how much luck goes into that. Veritasium has an epic video about this. Being able to perform under pressure is necessary, and if you can turn that pressure around for your benefit, you’re just that more likely to make it to the highest level.

A lot of track athletes try to peak their conditioning. You might ask why they dont maintain peak conditioning? Cause it’s hard AF to maintain and can also not be healthy.