In this talk he compares super athletes of the present with the best of the past. Are the present day athletes really that much better or has technology made the difference? He argues that athletes in the past 75 years or so have self selected or been selected into sports by their body types and their rather abnormal limb and arm lengths into areas where those body types will give them the maximum advantage to compete in a given sport. In the distant past, Epstein points out that high jumpers and shot putters were the same body types. No more. Then the running surfaces and other tech advances like starting blocks have also given them some extra leverage. In cycling , the improvements in performance seem to be related more to aerodynamics and materials development than any other reason.
David Epstein TED Talk
Now for the other piece of this post, In 1967 Jim Ryun running in a dual meet on his home indoor track, Fog Allen Fieldhouse, in Lawrence, Kansas set a world record in the 880 yards race in 1:48.3. It's probably Ryun's least remembered WR. We found a film of this race in the KU archives. Only problem is the film has been placed backwards in the re-recording device, so the runners appear to be going in the wrong direction and seem to be wearing their uniforms inside out. The meet was between Kansas and Oklahoma State. The runner chasing Ryun is James Metcalf a member of Oklahoma State's world record setting 2 mile relay team. Metcalf upon seeing the film this week commented that he (Metcalf) had run earlier that night in a 600 yards and finished second to Lowell Paul, a 1:46 half miler from KU. A pretty tough double assignment that evening for Metcalf. James also noted that before the race, Ryun told him it was gonna be fast. Can anyone think of a world record being set in a dual meet besides this one? Jesse Owens got his three in one meet but it was the Big Ten meet.
Will Shakespeare had some thoughts on this: Macbeth Act 5 Scene 5
Ryun 880 WR indoors
Of note: Mentioned above Chris McCubbins represented the U.S. in the Steeplechase in the Pan American Games and later ran for Canada in the 1976 Olympics. During those Pan Am Games in Winnipeg he met and later married a Canadian lady.
Here's a reference to that race in Great Moments in Allen Fieldhouse History