To run faster… than Usain Bolt. His 100M world record is there to be beaten—but is under 9 seconds possible?
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.
Such conditions would be a track at the maximum permitted altitude of 3,280 feet above sea level, with a constant tailwind of the permitted limit: 6.5 ft./second. (Bolt had a tailwind of 2.9 ft./second when he set his record, which gifted him a maximum of 7/100ths of a second.)
100 meter 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)
The key to breaking the 9-second barrier would be hitting Bolt’s top speed of 27.3 mph—currently seen as unbeatable—even earlier and then maintaining it for the duration of the race.
Which begs the question: Is 27.3 mph really the absolute human speed limit? Not according to biomechanics researcher Matthew Bundle and his team, who, in a sensational study, came to the conclusion that a human can, in theory, run at speeds of 40 mph.
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 percent higher than when you run. This demonstrates that a human possesses reserves of strength that are as yet untapped and could conceivably be utilized when running.
We’d be a full 30 percent 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.
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.