Usain Bolt am Start

Run Faster 

Words: Werner Jessner and Arek Piatek
Illustrations: Alex Williamson

… than Usain Bolt. His 100M world record is there to be beaten – but is under nine seconds possible?

The Red Bulletin takes a look at mankind’s current records – and how far we are from our absolute peak. Part 1: Speed

Using trends in men’s sprinting over the last 100 years, mathematical models have predicted that, before long, the 100m will be run in just 8.96 seconds. There are other methods that could have been used, of course. But whatever parameters you apply, the curve continues to flatten out. Better tracks, better running shoes and better training practices have all helped to cut times, but there’s little room left for improvement in these areas. 

So, how could Usain Bolt’s time of 9.58 seconds be broken? We get the answer by breaking down the Jamaican’s world-record run, 100th of a second by 100th of a second. A reaction time of under a 10th of a second counts as a false start; Bolt’s reaction time that night in Berlin in 2009 was a mere 0.146 seconds, meaning that he threw away 4/100ths of a second. 

100 metre sprint

Current world record: 
9.58 seconds (Usain Bolt, 2009)

Predicted world record: 
8.96 seconds (in the near future) 
6.67 seconds (in theory)

Perfect conditions would gift you another 13/100ths of a second. Such conditions would be a track at the maximum permitted altitude of 1,000m above sea level, with a constant tailwind of the permitted limit: 2m/second. (Bolt had a tailwind of 0.9m/second when he set his record, which gifted him a maximum of 7/100ths of a second.) 

The key to breaking the nine-second barrier would be hitting Bolt’s top speed of 44kph – currently seen as unbeatable – even earlier and then maintaining it for the duration of the race.

Which begs the question: is 44kph really the absolute human speed limit? Not according to US biomechanics researcher Dr Matthew Bundle and his team who, in a sensational study, came to the conclusion that a human can, in theory, run at speeds of 65kph. 


“A human can, in theory, run at speeds of 65kph”
Dr. Matthew Bundle
Usain Bolt sprintet

The team’s research found that if you hop on one leg, the force exerted on the ground – which is directly responsible for speed – is 30 per cent higher than when you run. This demonstrates that a human possesses reserves of strength that are as yet untapped and could conceivably be utilised when running. We’d be a full 30 per cent quicker, just like that. 

Researchers are currently looking into how this intelligence can be put to practical use. But if you apply it to Usain Bolt, it would mean a time of 6.67 seconds for the 100m – just 0.38 seconds slower than it currently takes him to run 60m.

The upshot 

External factors could lead to improvements, but the absolute limit is still a long way off. For that reason, there won’t be a new world record any time soon; going by mathematical models, Bolt’s incredible time came 38 years too early.

Get the best stories from The Red Bulletin 

Read more
08 2015 The Red Bulletin

Next story