How fast can a human possibly run? Recently, there has been much debate about it amongst sports fans, as well as scientists. Some believe that no one can run faster than 28 miles per hour, that’s because the man who can run that fast, is a six-time Olympic Gold medalist. His name is Usain Bolt (gottta love that last name), and he is also known as “The Fastest Man on Earth”.
One other man who held that title was fast as well as legendary. Jesse Owens set a world record in the 1936 Summer Games. Owens clocked 20.7 seconds in the 200 meter, setting a new world record. But how fast could he run, you ask? He also matched a world record in the 100 meter, by clocking 10.3 seconds, which is approximately 21.7 miles per hour.
Usain Bolt set his own world record in the 2008 Beijing Olympics by running the 100 meter in 9.68 seconds. The next year he set another record by completing the 200 meter in 19.19. In the same event and year, he broke his own 100 meter record by running it in 9.57 seconds, which comes out to 28 mph.
With that knowledge in our back pocket, we’ll pose the question, can anyone or will anyone run faster? Much like witnessing the speed of the fast ball increasing every decade in baseball, I think we’ll see the same with running.
I found a pretty nifty article that covers the same topic. In it explains that it was previously thought that the main hindrance to speed was that our limbs can only take a certain amount of force when striking the ground, but a recent study by scientist, Peter Weyand at Southern Methodist University, challenged that. He found in treadmill test that our legs can handle much more force than what is applied while running at top speed.
So what limits us then? The results of the study shows that it’s all about the time during foot-ground contact. To figure out the limits, they did a treadmill test with subjects running in different ways. One person hopped on one foot, another ran backwards, and another ran forward. The strange finding in this experiment showed that the fastest time running backward and the fastest time running forward had essentially identical timing of foot-ground contact.
The study shows that running speed is only limited by the contractile speed limits of the muscle fibers themselves, with fiber contractile speeds being limited on how quickly a runner’s legs can hit the ground. Projections from the study indicated that a runner at full force could reach speeds of 35 to 40 miles per hour. That’s almost cheetah fast, possibly Forest Gump fast.
With Usain Bolt, “The Fastest Man on Earth”, taking the field this year at the 2016 Rio Olympics, we may just see the 28 mph speed limit broken. Bolt himself claims that he will break his own record. If he does, it will only further prove how little we know still about the limits of the human body.
Check out the video compilation of all six of Bolt’s world records.