100-meter sprint world record could go as low as 9.48 seconds

Nov 28, 2008

2008 was a great summer for sports' fans. World records tumbled at the Beijing Olympics. Usain Bolt shattered both the 100m and 200m world records, knocking tenths of a second off each. People have been getting faster and faster over the last few decades, which made marathon runner Mark Denny, from Stanford University, wonder whether last century's massive increase in population could account for these dramatic improvements. He also wondered whether there are absolute limits on running speeds and, if so, how close are we to them?

Suspecting that there are, Denny decided to scrutinise the running performances of humans and two other famous racing species, dogs and thoroughbred horses, to find how close modern runners are to their species' peak performances. He publishes his predictions for their top speeds on 28 November 2008 in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

Having found records dating back to the 1920s for dogs and the 19th century for humans and thoroughbreds, Denny looked to see whether there were any clear trends; had any of the species' performances already levelled off? Plotting the annual top running speeds for all three species over the years, it was clear that racing horses and dogs have already reached a plateau.

There has been no improvement in the thoroughbred's speed in the Kentucky Derby since the 1940s and two other major US races since the 1970s, while dogs' performances also levelled out in the 1970s. The increasing dog and thoroughbred populations hadn't improved the animals' performances. However, 'chance might still turn up a faster animal,' says Denny and he predicts that thoroughbreds could improve their top speeds by as much as 1% in the 2012m Kentucky Derby, eventually peaking at a top speed of just over 17m/s.

For humans the results were complicated by the different distances that people race. Looking at the speeds of male race winners through the years, it seems as if men still haven't reached their top speeds at any distance and Denny predicts that male 100·m sprinters could one day get the record down to an incredible 9.48s, running 0.23m/s faster than Usain Bolt's current world record of 9.69·s. Meanwhile, female sprinters' top annual speeds levelled off in the 1970s, suggesting that any improvement in their speed was not due to a population increase. However, Denny suspects that female sprinters have room for improvement too, and predicts that they could eventually knock more than 0.4s of the current 100m world record to cover the distance in 10.19s.

Looking at marathon runners, Denny predicts that males could cut the current world record, held by Haile Gebrselassie, by between 2min7s and 4min23s. And when he calculates the top speed that a human female marathon runner could achieve, Denny suspects that women could eventually cross the 42,195m finishing line in 2h12min41s. He adds that Paula Radcliffe's current world record of 2h15min25s is very close to his average prediction for the maximum marathon speed and suspects that female marathon runners could be the first group to approach his predictions and test whether they hold.

Referenece: Denny, M. W. (2008). Limits to running speed in dogs, horses and humans. J. Exp. Biol. 211, 3836-3849. jeb.biologists.org

Source: The Company of Biologists

Explore further: Molecular gate that could keep cancer cells locked up

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Was Microsoft smart to play it safe with CEO pick?

Feb 05, 2014

Microsoft, after compiling a list of more than 100 CEO candidates, settled on Satya Nadella, a home-grown leader who joined the software maker in the early 1990s. That's back when Google's founders were teenagers ...

Motorola unveils 'affordable' Moto G smartphone

Nov 13, 2013

Google-owned Motorola Mobility on Wednesday unveiled the Moto G, aimed at the half-billion consumers around the world, many in emerging markets, who want a smartphone without a high price tag.

Ozone hole might slightly warm planet

Aug 08, 2013

A lot of people mix up the ozone hole and global warming, believing the hole is a major cause of the world's increasing average temperature. Scientists, on the other hand, have long attributed a small cooling ...

Recommended for you

Molecular gate that could keep cancer cells locked up

3 hours ago

In a study published today in Genes & Development, Dr Christian Speck from the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre's DNA Replication group, in collaboration with Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), New York, ...

The 'memory' of starvation is in your genes

6 hours ago

During the winter of 1944, the Nazis blocked food supplies to the western Netherlands, creating a period of widespread famine and devastation. The impact of starvation on expectant mothers produced one of the first known ...

User comments : 0