How Fast Can A Human Run The 100 Meter Sprint?
    By News Staff | August 6th 2009 12:00 AM | 21 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Usain Bolt, sprinter from Jamaica, currently holds the world record in the 100 meter sprint with a time of 9.69 seconds.  Whenever new records are set, people ask 'what is the limit on human performance?'

    So how fast can a human run?  

    Two econometricians from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, Professor of Statistics John Einmahl and former student Sander Smeets, say have calculated the ultimate records for the 100-meter sprint. The good news; there is still room for improvement in both the men's and women's times in the near future.

    They used extreme value theory to calculate by how much the current records for the 100 meter sprint could be improved.  

    Extreme-value theory is a sub-sector of statistics, which tries to answer questions about extreme events (which by definition are uncommon), using information about less extreme events. The theory is normally applied within the financial and insurance world to estimate the risk of extreme damage resulting from storms, earthquakes or the bursting of a dyke, for example, in order to calculate premiums.

    With a little modification, they say it can apply to sports as well.

    Einmahl and Smeets analyzed the records of 762 male and 479 female athletes. Each athlete was listed once, and the times were recorded between January 1991 and June 2008. Times run before 1991 were discounted on account of the inadequate doping controls before this date. The men's times varied between 9.72 and 10.30 seconds, and the women's from 10.65 to 11.38.

    According to Smeets and Einmahl, the fastest time that the men are capable of sprinting is 9.51 seconds, which knocks 0.18 seconds off Usain Bolt's current world record. For female 100m sprinters, another 0.16 seconds can be knocked off the 10.49 run by Florence Griffith-Joyner, which would mean a time of 10.33. In a more cautious estimate (with a 95% confidence interval), the predicted times are 9.21 for the men and 9.88 for the women.

    Sander Smeets studied Finance and Actuarial Sciences at Tilburg University and now works as a junior actuary at AZL, in Heerlen. John Einmahl is Professor of Statistics at Tilburg University.

    Paper: 'Ultimate 100m world records through extreme-value theory', CentER Discussion Paper nr. 57


    this seems logical to say... but ive notice with sprint events of women that Flo Jo's (florence griffth-joyner) sprinting world record time in 100 meters has not even been close to breaking yet... neither has her 200 meter sprint been approached. But as far as the mens sprinting events, record breaking is happening at a faster rate. What could be the reason for this???...

    Just timing and culture, would be my guess.   No one remembers the name of the other fastest Jamaican guy in the world because Usain Bolt blew him away before he could get famous.  If he had been around 15 years ago, though, his times would have lasted until recently.

    Plus, success makes others go out for events and the most recent world-famous woman turned out to be a cheat.  Probably lots of kids in the US are doing swimming now, like women in eastern Europe are playing tennis.  

    It may also be that women were conditioning themselves more efficiently earlier than men, who may have been relying on talent.

    ok yes i can understand... i haven't been studying developments of female athletes but patterns like this do flow... personally i have seen too many young women into soccer as it was when the Mia Hamm popularity was out (which she indeed had talent) and then u dont "hear" about it anymore...and like you stated lots of kids maybe doing swimming noting that mike phelps made world record times... maybe it will take another big talent female to pick up the pace for record breaking or more methods that will help speed up the efficiently but slow record breaking female athletes...

    I'm really hoping they considered Bolt's 9.69 an outlier! If not, the results are bogus! The very fact that he shut-it down the last 15-20m keeps us from having an "accurate" lower (as in faster) limit! It's analogous to declaring that a sports car's top speed is 180 mph because that's what was observed without knowing if the driver really kept his/her foot on the pedal during the entire drive.

    This is plain ridiculous!!! Just like in the 40's or 30's Medical an scientific journals heavily stressed that it was humanly impossible to run under te 4minute barrier and look what has happened since! So once again history repeats itself only with the 100m. The human body has no limits, we are evolving faster than you can say "fuck you", an it would be pretty impressive to see what happens in the future with times..Who knows, possible with newer shoes, new clothes, and faster tracks we can run even faster!

    That's a good point, though it's how that eugenics mess got started.   From a reproduction point of view, men may be less fit despite better training because we keep weaker ones alive now.

    Of course, this also explains the French.   The bravest and smartest died in WW1 and WW2 so the ones we have today came from what is left.  :)
    "...Few men now get a chance to test their courage. ‘‘Everyday opportunities to face real peril have almost evaporated,’’ McAllister says.Many comparisons of past and present are obviously flawed..." Ideas and perceptions of power were altered...

    is "Bolt" his real name? or has he earned that nickname from his amazing speed, i wonder
    "...according to Smeets and Einmahl, the fastest time that the men are capable of sprinting is 9.51 seconds, which knocks 0.18 seconds off Usain Bolt's current world record..." uSAIN bOLT DID 9.58 WITH EASE ONCE AGAIN I BELIEVE HE IS STILL HOLDING BACK ON HIS ENGINES LOL...

    We need a materials science person to really answer this, probably in consultation with an MD.  The real question is, at what acceleration would muscles and tendons start to seperate from the bone.  That's the only physical limit I can't see being surpassed.... at what point the human body physically would tear apart.

    So if there's a betting pool, put me down for 2100's article of "the 8-second mile; can it be broken?"

    here at The Sky By Day
    If Usain's new time stands, what was it, 9.58 or so, that would blow me AWAY that he came that close to the fastest a man can run. Using statistics, I'm sure these men are completely right as to the fastest he could run ever. But, did they actually use the physics of the real world, take into account the many x factors that contribute to speed (power v slimness, height, stride length) because i am sure that usains record will fall in my life time, and to do so would be nearing the limits that this paper sets.


    there wont be anyone faster. there will be people who have the potential to be faster, but he does the training and shit to become that fast. and 9:58 will be broken, by bolt. he said he can run faster and i reckon he will. he will of run faster in training and that, asafa powell said he's run 9:6's in training. i wont be surprised if bolt breaks 9.50

    Man I just cant wait till Usain actually Go's as fast as he possibly can they whole 200/100M

    With Bolt just tagging in 19.19 for the 200, divide by two and that's 9.595.  Yeah, I know they're different runs, but again, call me skeptical with their analysis of 9.51 as a hard limit.  If I want to be really jargoning, their purely statistical method ignores the black swan events that typify sports record-setting.

    Extreme value theory is still just statistics.    With something like baseball we can at least get an idea why pitchers don't throw faster than the 1960s - they optimized a while ago and a pitcher with 80 Newton-meters  of rotational force on his ulnar collateral ligament is already doing things that would shred an ordinary arm - but in running there is a lot more leg muscle and less stored energy in tendons that is released as spring-energy from stretched tendons at the worst possible moment, so it's a bigger question - you can't just do a cadavar study to see when leg muscle tears, for example, because it has too many variables, unlike a baseball throw.

    Someone estimating 8 seconds would hardly be worth talking about, though, so their method - and willingness to pick a hard number in something as varied as a sport relying on leg muscle - is at least commendable.
    An anatomically-based calculation has already been done (and was featured on the TV show MANswers); according to it, at 26.75mph the muscles would separate from the bone. That converts to an 8.41s 100m time.

    The funny thing is everyone keeps forgetting about the improvements made in track. The difference in improvement between throwing a baseball and sprinting is that throwing the baseball is with baseball nothing has changed since the 60's (except height of mound), it is still the pitcher throwing the ball. In sprinting the tracks have become much, much faster and the spikes have become better and lighter. My father ran in the 40’s and ran on mud tracks, how much better could he have run on these fast tracks?

    these are cool answers i believe the 100m record can be broken if bolt ran as fast as he could he probily would sub 9.5 s but he holds back always i've ran 9.66s back in 2006 in my field just think how much fast i could have gone if i was running on an olympic track i was the fastest man in the world unoffically i just wanna see sombody do the race as fast as it can be done!!!