Usain Bolt Faster Than What’s Humanly Possible?

Remember those “My Fast” commercials that Nike debuted a couple of months back? In Usain Bolt’s case, his fast is not only faster than your fast, or anyone else’s fast in the world, it’s in fact faster than mathematical models predicting the progress of humans in terms of speed. WIRED reports that the mathematical formula used to predict the progression of the 100-meter world record has been extremely accurate - until Bolt came along.

Projection of the 100 meter world record

Bolt’s dramatic lowering of the world record time has led scientists and mathematicians to recalculate just what they think the human body is capable of doing.

Previous models hadn’t predicted that the world record would reach 9.69 by 2030, based on an “ultimate record” of 9.44 seconds. Based on Bolt’s times, those models are going to be tweaked, with the likely result being a lowering in the times that researchers think humans can eventually run.

While the mathematicians use their models, other scientists say they are flawed because they can’t account for an apparent once-a-century freak of nature like Bolt. Peter Weyand, a physiologist at Southern Methodist University who specializes in the physics of running, says that Bolt has essentially broken the mold for elite runners:

“Bolt is an outlier. He’s enormous,” Weyand said. “Typically when you get someone that big, they can’t start.”

Weyand also warned that the limits of human achievement will also be set by the regulation of the use of biotechnologies. Things like gene therapy for athletic purposes have the potential rewrite the rules for what the human body can and can’t do. And here I was led to believe that it all came down to saying your prayers and eating your vitamins.

On the other end of the mathematical spectrum is Peyton Manning. Even before the knee surgery he probably could be outrun by most of his offensive linemen. He tops SI.COM’s list of the Slowest People in Sports. (And we’re talking about physical and not mental - Vince Young is nowhere to be found.) Although I have to question the inclusion of John Daly (who barely needs to walk to perform) and WWE wrestler the Great Khalil, especially with other worthy candidates.

As someone who watched him in college for four years, I have to ask: Where’s Matt Leinart? As Petros Papadakis correctly pointed out, he runs like a scarecrow because he never, ever bends his knees. And I’m pretty sure that I could beat Shaq in a 100-meter sprint.