Chris Tomlinson is Olympic champion! Sorry, let's just clarify that. If Chris Tomlinson, who broke the 34-year-old British long jump record in April, had produced his maximum effort in years gone by – 1964, say, or 1936, or 1928 – then he would have smashed all Olympic opposition to take the gold medal.
Alternatively, had he stretched his 6ft 6in frame to the same effect at the 1983 World Championships, he would have earned a bronze behind Carl Lewis and Jason Grimes. But he would had done enough to win the Commonwealth Games in 1986...
How do I know this? Because when the genial young giant from Middlesbrough – surely someone ought to be calling him the Middlesbrough Marvel by now? – finally took over from Lynn 'The Leap' Davies – see, he got himself a nickname – I received a lovingly assembled list of honours his jump would have merited in the history of the event, courtesy of some kind soul within UK Athletics.
If only the Big Boro Bird... No. If only the Teeside Pterodactyl... No. If only Tomlinson had realised what might have been achieved had he managed just another nine centimetres. Then the 1976 Olympic title could have been his instead of Clarence 'Arnie' Williams'. Ah well, there's always another theoretical time.
Whenever an outstanding sporting achievement takes place, it is accompanied by a profound urge to put it into context.
Periodically, when the world record goes in one of the athletics glamour events like the 100 metres, 1500m or mile, newspapers print an artist's impression of a finish involving all the recent world record holders at their best. Thus you get Hicham El Guerrouj, breasting the metaphorical tape with a 3min 43.13sec mile, a couple of strides ahead of Algeria's Noureddine Morceli. My God, wasn't his record supposed to last for 10 years? And here's Steve Cram, striding along 10 metres back, a little ahead of the dark, intent figure of Sebastian Coe, who in turn has a strip of daylight between himself and the burlier frame of Steve Ovett. Filbert Bayi of Tanzania is at the far end of the straight. And who's that desperate, blowing figure miles behind? Oh yes. Roger Bannister. Poor old duffer. Wonder why he bothers any more...
I never tire of viewing these updated graphics of athletic evolution. Man must evolve. But equally, it seems, man must compare.
The Tomlinson Files (Teeside Time Traveller? No) are just one of the more recent manifestations of this instinct. What if? Or perhaps more accurately, if only. If only Marion Jones had been able to run at her peak in all the early Olympic Games. With a legal 100m best of 10.70sec she would have won seven titles in a row before having to give best to Harold Abrahams at the 1924 Games in Paris. Think of that!
If only Dave Bedford, whose attempt to front-run the 1972 Olympic 10,000 metres saw him eventually overrun by a field from which Lasse Viren emerged to take the first of his four gold medals, had produced his sixth-place time of 28min 05.4sec in any previous Games. Bootsy would have had 12 gold medals!
And if only Trevor Misipeka, more popularly known as Trevor the Turtle, the displaced shot putter from American Samoa who finished a distant last in the 100m heats at last year's World Championships in Edmonton, had been sprinting back when the first official world record was set in 1867. When William MacLaren of Great Britain crossed the line at Haslingden in 11.0sec, the Turtle, running his time of 14.28, would only have been... well, about 20 metres behind.
OK. This history game doesn't always work out. But that never deters people from playing it, or its variants.
When Manchester United won the European Cup in 1999, there was much talk at the time of how they compared to the team which had won the trophy at Wembley in 1968. For Beckham, Giggs, Scholes and Schmeichel, read Charlton, Best, Crerand and Stepney.
And the result was that a lot of people reckoned the 1999 side would simply be too fast and strong for the 1968 team, talented as it was – although a lot of other people felt that Beckham and Giggs weren't fit to lace Charlton and Best's boots and that Matt Busby's men would have adapted themselves to match the efforts of Alex Ferguson's men. So that sorted that one out.
I've just had a thought. If I look up my 3,000m best (and only) from Woodside Stadium, Watford, 1973, and take a little peek at the book of words...
Yes! I would have shown Joan Hall, winner of the 1953 Selsonia LAC Meeting at Tooting Bec in an unofficial world record time of 11 minutes 29 seconds, where to get off!!
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies