- A little tailwind, altitude and a faster start time could lower Usain Bolt's 100-meter world record from 9.58 to 9.45.
- No one can predict what the ultimate limit of human speed will be.
- Sprinting world records tend to stagnate for a decade before dropping again.
With his current world record of 9.58 seconds in the 100-meter dash and a top speed of more than 27 miles per hour, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt has already defied many expectations of how fast human legs can go.
Yet, without much effort, Bolt could run even faster, according to new calculations. With a few slight but still-legal boosts from tailwinds, altitude and a better reaction time at the start, argues Cambridge University mathematician John Barrow, Bolt could easily clock in at 9.45.
And while elite athletes will likely run even faster than that some day, no one can say for sure how fast people will eventually go -- or if we'll ever see a sprinter finally reach the limits of the human body.
"There will be an ultimate limit, but just because there's a limit mathematically, that doesn't mean you'll ever reach it," said Barrow, author of Mathletics: A Scientist Explains 100 Amazing Things About the World of Sports. "You can draw a curve that's always increasing, but never goes higher than the particular level where it's bounded."