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London - When Thomas Burke clocked 12 seconds in the first modern Olympic 100 metres final in Athens in 1896, few could have dreamed how much faster sprinters would become.
More than a century later, Usain Bolt has brought the world record down to 9.58 seconds but mathematicians and sports scientists are sure the limit of human speed has yet to be reached.
A little like the top sprinters Bolt, Yohan Blake, Tyson Gay and others all jostling for position in the record books, theoretical experts too are vying to place their best predictions for how fast the ultimate 100m sprint could be.
At Stanford University in the US, scientist Mark Denny has calculated that Bolt or one of his competitors could take another 0.1 seconds off the current record to get it down to 9.48sec.
“That’s an estimate based on history and analysis – and of course I’d love to see someone go below that,” Denny said.
“But there have to be limits to human speed – even if people don’t like to accept that idea.”
John Barrow, a professor of mathematical sciences at Cambridge University, has a more ambitious estimate of 9.4sec, a prediction matched by Reza Noubary of Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania.
“We’re not going to be reaching the limits of human speed anytime soon,” Barrow said.
Noubary admits Bolt’s stunning performances so far have “changed our perception of human capabilities”.
The flamboyant Jamaican, who was beaten by his younger compatriot and friend Blake in both the 100m and 200m at this year’s Jamaican trials, has said he reckons the world 100 record will stop at 9.4sec.
Having analysed Bolt’s reaction times to the starting gun – which are generally slower than other top sprinters and often much slower than the 0.1sec allowed – Barrow says that is where the most obvious progress could be made.
“The time that people record in the 100m sprint is the sum of two parts – one is the reaction time to the starting gun and the other is the actual running time,” he says. “So if Bolt could get his reaction time down to say 0.13sec, which is good but not exceptional, he’d make some improvement. It may only be few hundredths of a second, but it’s certainly room for improvement.”
Weather too, has the potential to help or hinder.
Experts point out that when Bolt won gold at the Beijing Games in 2008, he did so in warm and relatively still conditions. Similar weather in Berlin in 2009 might well have helped him clock his 9.58sec world record. If London isbe basking in a warm breeze on Sunday evening, the mark could be broken. – Reuters