With the Olympics in full flow, the Economist (4th August 2012) pondered a big question in Sports science.Can athletes continually improve their performance so that there is no real limit? Obviously even Usain Bolt can't outpace a Lamborghini at full throttle but many traditional, sports scientists have thought that elite runners like him can get faster and faster relative to other humans. New research shows that this isn't the case.1. Bolt ran 9.63 in London which is slightly slovenly for the Jamaican jet engine (His best time in Berlin was 9.58). That was a tenth of a second better than Beijing. Yet to shave off a tenth of a second according to a top sports statistician he would come up against a notional human speed limit of 9.48 seconds.2. His time in London suggest paradoxically that he will stagnate but still scorch the trainer off everyone else! Most other sports according to French researchers have stagnated in performance and many others simply see incremental changes. Aside from technology, drugs and freak atmospheric effects (Mexico's high altitude and reduced drag) feats like Bolt's and that of US long jumper Bob Beamon are less likely in future. Incidentally the Chinese Swimmer wrongly fingered for drug use Ye Shiwen performed well within this limit in shaving asecond off the world record.3. There is a way for runners to go beyond the notional human limit. If Bolt learned to hop and run at the same speed he would theoretically be able to cut his best time by a third. Hopping gives you more force!But funny as it would be to see Bolt do his Bugs Bunny, it's as likely he will just continue to run faster than everyone else but within the statistical limits.
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