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Have humans reached the limit of athletic potential?

July 22, 2021

Not by a long shot, says ASU sports historian Victoria Jackson

Citius, altius, fortius. For those of us who avoided Latin in high school, that translates to “faster, higher, stronger,” and there couldn’t be a more fitting official motto of the Olympics.

For more than 100 years, athletes have been consistently setting new world records, shattering expectations about the limits of human potential. But at some point, despite advancements in training, equipment and nutrition, we must max out our potential for speed, height and strength — right?

If you ask sports historian and ASU Clinical Assistant Professor Victoria Jackson, she thinks we still have a long way to go; especially women.

A former NCAA national champion and Nike-sponsored professional track and field athlete, Jackson writes and speaks about the intersection of sport and society, exploring how the games we play (and watch) tell us about ourselves.

In anticipation of the July 23 kickoff of the delayed 2020 Games, Jackson shared her thoughts on where we’re at now and what may come in the future.

Editor’s note: The following has been edited for length and clarity

ASU Clinical Assistant Professor and sports historian  wearing ASU logo running top and shorts looks at the camera against a backdrop of a desert scene

Victoria Jackson

Question: Are humans as a species at the height of athletic performance, or do you think there are still new records we can set?

Answer: I think we’re definitely not maxed out. And women in particular have just started in the grand scheme of things. I’m not all that old, and one of my friends from high school, Ann Gaffigan, won the Olympic Trials for the 3,000-meters steeplechase in 2004 and didn’t have an event to go to because it wasn’t an Olympic event for women yet. This is only the fourth Olympics that have had the women’s 3,000-meters steeplechase as an official event. So if we’re thinking about women, we’re going to be breaking records for a very long time.

If we’re thinking about men, it’s true that some records have been around for a while, but then, some records have asterisks because of the use of performance enhancements, and our ideas about what it takes to train are ever-evolving. Performance science is still a relatively new field with things like technological enhancement and gene-doping to consider. And those types of innovations are only going to continue. Even information technology has made a huge difference across the spectrum, from high school to collegiate to professional levels of sport. It used to be that you only had a kind of theory of how people were training in other states or countries, or maybe you could read about it in a magazine. But now you can see video of it and look at data about it.

Q: As you mentioned, a variety of factors – from better nutrition to better technology – have contributed to better athletic performance over the years. Is there any one factor that has made the most impact, or is it a combination of things?

A: Women being allowed to participate in certain sports is definitely a single factor for them. But in general, I think it’s a combination of things. Sometimes, in the past, the sharing of knowledge was actually the opposite of beneficial to performance. Because, for example, you’d have a camp of coaches who thought interval training was all you needed to run faster, without any science behind it. We know now that’s not true, and a lot depends on the individual athlete. We can do things like monitor bloodwork and nutrient levels constantly. Also, there’s much more focus on rest nowadays; the ability to maximize rest so that your body can tolerate more training is an area of emphasis for athletes now that wasn’t thought about in the past.  

Q: Can we expect a certain level of acceptance of new innovations in performance enhancements to contribute to athletes achieving new records in the future?

A: Yeah, you know, I think what we’ve learned is that anti-doping is impossible. There’s a certain amount of privilege at play in Western countries when it comes to that; we almost fetishize technology and look down on what we see as more rudimentary forms of doping. But technological doping often comes with a higher price tag. You can sleep in a hyperbaric chamber to increase your red blood cell count and feel justified about it because you’re using technology, but someone from a less well-to-do country who uses EPO injectionsErythropoietin is secreted mainly by the kidney to stimulate red blood cell production. to do the same thing is looked down on. There are genuine health concerns with injections as far as contaminated doses or needles, but if it’s a safe process, essentially it’s just a difference in methods to achieve the same outcome. So I see problems with anti-doping as far as blaming athletes for trying to compete at a level that the systems within which they live don’t allow them any other options.

Q: When we spoke back in 2019 about the “Sports, Cultures and Ethics” certificate, you said that sport can serve as a window into society. What does it say about society that we’re always pushing our athletes to achieve more?

A: I think it’s a good thing to want to be the best version of yourself — to see how fast you can go, how far you can throw, how high you can jump or how perfectly a team can work together. There’s something beautiful about that, about pushing ourselves to our limits. In one of my classes where we explore limits, I assign a podcast from RadioLab about these two women who have had notoriously epic finishes at the Ironman competition. One of them was trying to crawl along the fence at the end because her body just gave out. It’s amazing to hear how it never occurred to them to give up. So I think there’s something really incredible about humanity that we can learn from watching athletes try so hard to be better.

Q: How much does someone’s socioeconomic background influence how much they’re able to achieve in sports?

A: It plays a huge role. The resources and the time it takes to be able to develop into a competitive athlete in the 21st century can often be incredible barriers depending on one’s background. At the youth level, there are lots of really great programs and nonprofits to get kids involved in sports because of all the benefits, mentally, emotionally, socially and physiologically. But children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are still at an advantage because their schools are a reflection of residential segregation, and that’s nationwide. When it comes to elite athletes, a lot of people don’t know that many athletes training for the Olympics are living below the poverty line due to the resources it takes to train, never mind all the traveling and other expenses. And there are gender dynamics at play, too, with women having to plan pregnancies and child care around competitions.

Q: What do you foresee for the future of the Olympics as a global event?

A: That depends on a few factors, like whether national contests will still matter or who holds status as the global superpower. In a way, sport is a proxy for actual war. What really catapulted the Olympics into the major TV event we know today was the global superpower rivalry that was going on around the time of the Cold War, which was also the dawn of the Golden Age of TV. Sport saved the world during the Cold War; instead of shooting missiles and potentially annihilating the planet, we went to battle in a sporting space. But the popularity of the Olympics is not guaranteed. I don’t know if the Olympics will be around in 50 to 100 years. The Games as we know them today are really only just over 100 years old, and they look nothing like they did in Athens in 1896 or in St. Louis in 1904. So this idea that they exist and therefore will always exist certainly isn’t a hard fact.

Read more: Global Sport Institute CEO says end of Cold War scuttled the US vs. Soviet Olympic narrative

Q: What are you most looking forward to at the 2020 Olympic Games?

A: I really wanted to see Sha'Carri Richardson. It’s just so unfortunate how that all played out. But she is running at the Prefontaine Classic, which is part of the Diamond League international circuit. So at least she’s still competing. American women are rocking the steeplechase in the global competition. Ryan Crouser, an American shot putter, broke the outdoor record at the Olympic Trials. I’m interested to see what Gwen Berry does if she makes it to the podium in Tokyo. I think Allyson Felix is going to have global support in a way that we rarely see at the Olympics because of all the advocacy work she’s been doing off the field, and also because she’s one of the most decoratedFelix is the only female track and field athlete to ever win six Olympic gold medals, and is tied with Merlene Ottey as the most decorated female Olympian in track and field history, with a total of nine Olympic medals. female Olympians in track and field history, along with Merlene Ottey. Obviously I like track and field. Simone Biles is obviously going to be amazing to watch, and the whole U.S. women’s gymnastics team. There are a lot of great storylines there. But yeah, I’m always most excited for track.

Top photo courtesy of

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Forks up for Tokyo Olympic Games

July 19, 2021

3 current students among 20 Sun Devil athletes who will be competing for gold in a variety of sports

They may have been delayed a year, but Arizona State University is ready to go for gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which open July 23.

There are 20 Sun Devil athletes competing in Tokyo, representing 14 countries in six sports. Three Olympians — Jorinde van Klinken, Leon Marchand and Jarod Arroyo — are current students.

In addition to these current and former Sun Devil athletes, volunteer ASU swim coaches Hali Flickinger and Allison Schmitt will be competing on the U.S. swim team in Tokyo. It’s the second Olympics for Flickinger, who finished seventh in the 200-meter butterfly in 2016, and the fourth Games for multi-medalist Schmitt, who won bronze in 2008 (4x200 free relay), three golds (200 free, 4x100 and 4x200 free relays) and silver (400 free) in 2012, and gold (4x200 free relay) and silver (prelims swimmer for 4x100 free relay) in 2016.

ASU head swimming coach Bob Bowman will be on the coaching staff for USA Swimming. He served as the Olympic team’s head coach in 2016 and has been an assistant Olympic coach in 2004, 2008, 2012 and this year. Bowman, named ASU head coach in 2015, coached Michael Phelps to 28 Olympic medals over five Games from 2000–16.

RELATED: More info on the athletes | ASU athletes at the 2016 Rio Games

Here's a look at this year's athletes:

Promise Amukamara

Nigeria, basketball

Amukamara played for ASU women's basketball from 2011 to 2015. She is the first ASU women’s basketball player to play in the Olympics. She played in every one of ASU's 131 games between 2012–15, recording starts in 97 of those contests. Amukamara is sixth place on ASU's all-time steals list and third in career steals in NCAA Tournament games. She was selected by the Phoenix Mercury in the 2015 draft, the year she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Jarod Arroyo

Jarod Arroyo

Puerto Rico, swimming, 200- and 400-meter individual medleys

Arroyo is a current ASU redshirt freshman majoring in exercise and wellness. He won gold in the 400-meter medley at the Puerto Rico International Swimming Open in May; his time of 04:16.63 set a Puerto Rican record.

Chris Benard

United States, track and field, triple jump

Benard was a member of ASU track and field from 2010 to 2012. He earned eight All-America honors from 2011–13. He broke ASU’s indoor triple jump mark and won the Pac-12 triple jump. Benard finished 16th at the Rio Games with a jump of 16.55. He graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

Richard Bohus

Hungary, swimming, 100-meter backstroke

Bohus swam for ASU from 2013 to 2017. He has ASU's second-fastest 100- and 200-meter backstroke times. Bohus graduated summa cum laude in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in digital culture from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. He competed in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, placing ninth in the 4x100 medley relay and 24th in the 100-meter freestyle in Rio.

Paul Casey

England, golf

Casey played for ASU from 1997 to 2000. He won three straight Pac-12 titles (1998–2000). Casey has three PGA Tour wins and earned his 15th European Tour victory earlier this year.

Carlota Ciganda

Spain, golf

Ciganda was a member of ASU women's golf from 2008 to 11. She helped ASU win the 2009 NCAA title as a freshman and made conference history as the first to win back-to-back Pac-10 championships with titles in 2009 and 2010 and then finished third in 2011. Ciganda was the British Amateur champion in 2007. She finished 39th at the Rio Olympics.

ASU golfers

Four former members of the ASU women's golf team will compete in Tokyo. From left: Anna Nordqvist, Carlota Ciganda, Giulia Molinaro and Azahara Munoz.

Dallas Escobedo

Mexico, softball

Escobedo was a pitcher for ASU softball from 2011 to 2014. She has one national championship and three trips to the Women’s College World Series under her belt. She had a 115-26 record (.815) and a 2.01 career ERA. Escobedo is second in ASU history in wins (115) and strikeouts (1,222). She graduated in 2015 with a double major in family and human development from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and special education from Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and in 2017 with a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, also from the Teachers College.

MORE: More than a game for Sun Devil softball Olympians

Chelsea Gonzales

Chelsea Gonzales

Mexico, softball

Shortstop Gonzales played for ASU from 2014 to 2017. She led the Sun Devils in 2017 with a .353 batting average and 13 home runs and started all 53 games played. She finished her career sixth on the ASU home run list (44) and seventh on the RBI list (183). Gonzales graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in family and human development from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

Leon Marchand

France, swimming, 200-meter butterfly, 200- and 400-meter IM

Marchand will be a freshman at ASU this fall, majoring in computer science, and he is the current French record holder in the 400-meter individual medley. His parents both competed for France in the Olympics.

Lena Mihailovic

Australia, water polo

Mihailovic was on ASU's water polo squad from 2015 to 2018. She had 131 goals, finishing her career in the top 10 in program history. She played for Australia in the 2017 FINA World Championship. Mihailovoc graduated cum laude in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Giulia Molinaro

Italy, golf

Molinaro was a Sun Devil golfer from 2008 to 2012, where she was the 2012 Pac-12 Golfer of the Year, only the fourth Sun Devil to earn the honor. She graduated magna cum laude in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in tourism development and management from Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. She tied for 53rd at the Rio Games.

Azahara Munoz

Spain, golf

Munoz golfed at ASU from 2005 to 2009. The 2008 NCAA champion earned the title with a 25-foot putt on the first playoff hole. She led ASU to the NCAA team title in 2009, the year she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Munoz finished 21st at the Rio Games.

Christabel Nettey

Christabel Nettey

Canada, track and field, long jump

Nettey was on the ASU track and field team from 2010 to 2013. The 2011 Pac-10 champion in the long jump finished second at the 2013 NCAA Championships and is a three-time long jump All-American. She holds the second-best long jump in school history with a mark of 21-07.25. Nettey graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies  from the College of Integrative Sciences ans Arts. She finished 11th at the Rio Games.

Anna Nordqvist

Sweden, golf

Nordqvist played for ASU from 2006–08, where she was the Pac-10 co-champion and the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2007. She has eight LPGA Tour wins and three victories on the Ladies European Tour. Norqvist won the 2009 LPGA Championship and finished 11th at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Anna Olasz

Hungary, swimming,10K open water

Olasz swam for ASU from 2013 to 2017 and graduated magna cum laude in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in business communication from the W. P. Carey School of Business. She placed 14th in the 10K open water event at the 2016 Olympics.

Sashel Palacios

Mexico, softball

Palacios played softabll at ASU from 2014–17, hitting .322 in her senior year and starting all 53 games. She earned Pac-12 All-Defensive honors in 2015 and was the Pac-12 Player of the Week on March 28, 2017. Palacios graduated cum laude in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in family and human development from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and in 2019 with a master’s degree in higher and postsecondary education from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Jon Rahm

Spain, golf

Rahm golfed for the Sun Devils from 2012 to 2016. He won 11 collegiate events at ASU in that span and has since won six times on the PGA Tour, including his first major at the 2021 U.S. Open. Rahm graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in communication from The College. Tokyo is his first Olympics.

Jon Rahm

The 2021 U.S. Open champion, John Rahm played for ASU at the 2016 NCAA Division I men's golf championship.

Fanny Teijonsalo

Finland, swimming, 50-meter freestyle

Teijonsalo was a member of the ASU swim team from 2017 to 2018 after transferring from Florida Gulf Coast University. She has the second-, third- and seventh-best ASU records in the 50-meter freestyle, the third- and seventh-best in the 100-meter freestyle, and four of the top 10 Sun Devil scores in the 100-meter butterfly. She graduated magna cum laude in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Jorinde van Klinken

Jorinde van Klinken

Netherlands, track and field, discus

Van Klinken, a current ASU graduate student in global management, took the world lead and broke the Dutch discus record in spring 2021, days before the NCAA West preliminaries. She went on to win NCAA gold in the discus. She was the Pac-12 Women’s Field Athlete of the Year in 2021, after her first season with ASU.

Rowie Webster

Australia, water polo

Webster played for ASU water polo in 2006. Her 63 goals and 82 points that year put her at the top of ASU’s freshman record books. She placed sixth at the 2016 Olympics and earned the bronze medal at the 2012 London Games.

Kelsey White qualified to play water polo for South Africa but announced on July 14 that she would not be playing for COVID-19 reasons.

Top photo: ASU alumnus Chris Benard, shown here competing in the 2017 World Championships in Athletics in London, will be representing the United States in Tokyo in the triple jump. Photo by Omar Mota/ASU