The world swimming championships, falling records and buoyant streamlined swimsuits in the Foro Italico (sounds nicely gladiatorial) illustrates that standards are hard to maintain.
Records in athletics fall because of: better training; improvements in the human mind and body; drugs; and advances in equipment.
There’s not much you can do to prevent better training. There used to be amateurs who did something else as their main occupation but those days are gone. Roger Bannister was a medical student who ran and stole time from his studies in order to train. That’s no longer the case. People can devote all their time to training and there’s no way to limit it.
Drug-free improvements in mind and body are also hard to avoid; diets are better in many countries, people are taller now than in the past, they have less childhood diseases, etc.
Drugs are a slippery slope. What is a food and what is a drug? What helps to ameliorate an idiosyncratic illness (Ventolin for bronchial spasms) vs what is adding something no one has naturally (steroids for muscle growth). Steroids no but antihistamines? Coffee?
Equipment is tricky too. Pole vault changed with the advent of fiber-glass spring loaded poles, and the right to land on foam rather than sawdust. Dick Fosbury could invent the Fosbury Flop in high jump and leap over the bar backwards and land on his back only when foam replaced sawdust. It’s a different game. Rubberized tracks improve records. So do swimming pools with wave-damping sides. Tennis outlawed spaghetti rackets. It’s all so inconsistent.
But swimming is one sport, even more so than running, that could be pretty pure. Just water and a body. Regulate suits to be minimal and of a standard material, so you can compare old records to new ones. Regulate swimming pools and their sides too. Men in the tiniest of spandex Speedos and maybe women too. Why not? Have one sport about which there is no equipment confusion. Even so there will be trickiness — a while back someone invented the idea of swimming underwater for the first length of the backstroke and now everyone does it.
Time for the SEC to regulate this business too. Allow no one to live closer than thirty minutes from an olympic-size pool.