Slow Young People

Articles detailing the differences between the generations seem to be oddly prolific these days. Especially those discussing how wanting the current generation is for improvement of some kind. More often then not, however, a given piece will boil down not to "what's wrong with the next generation" but instead boil down to "what's wrong with people in their 20s" - a far stupider concept. But, sometimes this is not the case, as with a recent article from the Wall St. Journal that attempts to demonstrate a particular failing of the current generation from the perspective of a baby boomer: You're all slow - literally.

Saying I finished in the top 15% of my age group in last month's Chicago Triathlon is like bragging that I could outrun your grandpa. My age group was 50 to 54.

But against the entire sprint-distance field, I finished in the top 11%. That's right: Team Geriatric outperformed the field.

Rather, this old-timer triumph is attributable to something that fogies throughout the ages have lamented: kids these days.

Aww yeah. You know you've struck gold when the author throws down a "kids these days."

The article starts off in an incredibly unforgiving manner towards the younger generation:

They're just not very fast. "There's not as many super-competitive athletes today as when the baby boomers were in their 20s and 30s," said Ryan Lamppa, spokesman for Running USA, an industry-funded research group. While noting the health benefits that endurance racing confers regardless of pace, Lamppa-a 54-year-old competitive runner-said, "Many new runners come from a mind-set where everyone gets a medal and it's good enough just to finish."

You couldn't fit any more "baby boomers vs. millennials" stereotypes into that paragraph. Also, competitiveness:

Now, a generational battle is raging in endurance athletics. Old-timers are suggesting that performance-related apathy among young amateur athletes helps explain why America hasn't won an Olympic marathon medal since 2004.

Please don't pay attention to the fact that the US has only been sporadically good at the marathon over the past 100 years (the US was fairly dominant prior to 1910). Also, please ignore the complete lack of supporting documentation or the names of said "old timers". Lastly, also ignore the fact that US marathoner, Khalid Khannouchi (previously of Morocco) held the world record in 2002:

Median U.S. marathon finishes for men rose 44 minutes from 1980 through 2011, according to Running USA, and last year nearly 75% of road-race finishers were 44 or younger, with 25- to 34-year-olds representing the largest age group.

This passage's purpose is ostensibly to demonstrate that because the median finish time is getting worse and since young people make up the largest age group, then young people are slow and this is why we're not good at the marathon on the international stage. This, of course, assumes that "median finish time" has any implication, at all, for those elite few who actually compete at the international level. The middle finisher of a series of local and regional meets that anyone can compete in means exactly nothing. This is baby boomer hubris at its worst. Because the author has competed at these events, they must be important. They're not. Baby boomers are not special and unique snowflakes.

Interestingly enough, upon reviewing the information from the article's cited source, Running USA, a completely different picture is painted when I look at the data. What sticks out immediately is the sheer growth of the number of marathon finishers. In 1980, there were 143,000 finishers, making the median time of 3:32:17 (for men) attributable to the (roughly) 71,500th best time. In 2011, there were 518,000 finishers, making the median time of 4:16:34 attributable to the 209,000th best time. I wonder how the guy who finished 71,500th in 2011 did?

The author continues on about how new races like Tough Mudder (an obstacle course) and Color Run (described as "all about a color crazy day with friends and family"), and how everyone should be timed. These naturally sit along with other boilerplate passages you'd expect to see from such an article - I won't bore you by including them here. However, near the end of the piece there's a few sentences that are unmatched in their sheer arrogance:

Of course, there are countless super-elite young athletes. And only because the young have no need to prove they're not old was I able to outrace so many of them last month. Still, apathetic competition offers little comfort to some aging athletes.

What do the younger monkeys here think? Am I being too rough on this guy? Are 50+ baby boomers actually superior to all of you?

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