Going Faster Certain
The future of sprinting is anyone's guess. Every time a limit is talked about, somebody beats it, and who knows where that might end?
Going Faster Certain
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt continues to extend the speed at human legs can run, as his current world record time - 9.58 seconds at the 100-meter dash - over 27mph, in fact, but scientists firmly believe that Bolt could run even faster, according to new calculations.
Nobody can be certain of just how fast people could eventually run, or indeed what the limits of the human body are, because the fact is that even if there were a mathematical limit, it is by no means certain that any human will ever reach it.
Bolt broke the 100m record in spring 2008, at 6 feet, 5 inches tall, seemingly too big to sprint, but by 2009, the record had been smashed by him down to 9.58 from 9.74 - a dramatic drop. One researcher decided to try working out how fast Bolt might eventually go, by focusing on three simple factors known to affect sprinting speed.
Bolt is notorious for reacting slowly to the starting gun, and it seems that if he could improve his slow start time - 0.165 seconds was second slowest at the Beijing Olympics - shaving this to only 0.12, that alone would lower his record by 0.03 seconds, something that could also be achieved through a maximum permitted tailwind at 6.6 feet per second.
Lastly, it was calculated that, if Bolt ran at the highest allowable elevation for running records to count - 3,280 ft - air density at such heights low enough to let him shave another 0.03 seconds from his time. The most important factor which drives sprinting performance comes down to how hard runners hit the ground relevant to body weight.
Elite sprinters like Bolt produce vertical forces five times greater than their own body weight, propelling them upwards like a spring, momentum carrying them foreword, but scientists still do not know how elite runners generate one thousand pound ground forces.
What is undoubtedly almost certain is that someone will run faster than Bolt eventually, and in fact, during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, US sprinter Bob Hayes was unofficially clocked - in the final leg of the 4 x 100 relay - at 8.5 seconds. In 2011 Yohan Blake ran the 200m with a time equivalent to being over a second faster than the current record.
100m times have a tendency to stagnate for several years, but even though it seems certain that somebody will, in due course, go faster than Usain Bolt, but the ultimate human speed over distance remains mysterious, so the future of sprinting is anyone's guess. Every time a limit is talked about, somebody beats it, and who knows where that might end?