Usain Bolt is "the world's fastest man" because he has the record for the 100 meter sprint at 9.58 seconds. But could runners go faster? WIRED's Robbie Gonzalez explores the science of extreme sprinting speed.
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Why It's Almost Impossible to Run 100 Meters In 9 Seconds | WIRED
the title for the fastest man or woman on earth belongs to whoever owns the 100-meter sprint time why because it is the benchmark for all outrunning speed and and running Asaf Apollo gets a good start you sent both to the Middle East Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is the fastest man on earth with an official world record time of nine point five eight seconds in the hundred meter dash at his fastest he's running more than 27 miles per hour elite sprinters look like they leave it all on the track but could they eke out just a little bit more somehow today we're gonna look at why running a hundred meter dash in nine seconds flat is almost impossible to find out what it takes i toad the line with two of America's top sprinters ran on an absurd treadmill and talked physiological limits with a bio mechanist the determinants of how fast you can complete a 100 meters or how quickly you get up to speed and then how fast you can run once you get there basically yeah I got a lesson in getting up to speed from two of the fastest runners on earth mike rogers and bryce robinson and then for the setup obviously you want your fingers behind line Rogers an olympian has clocked a nine point eight five second hundred meter time Robinson a rising track star is also one of the few sprinters to have run the 100-meter dash in under 10 seconds they showed me how to set up the blocks for a good start it was only so much help go okay what do they do break came out the blocks you do that incorrectly pushed out but the release from the cutters you gotta work on that point I was basically going forward try to catch yourself pass class one last - they push out right see so he's dragging his back with that foot drag forces Robinson to keep his rear foot planted on the block longer and that gives him a more explosive start he also swings his arms for maximum power the drag comes in because you're trying to push off this thing as long as you can you don't want it you don't want to step off the same without push it this time I'm gonna set up exactly how I did the first time I'll get set and then I'm gonna focus on two things one is gonna be this no drag coming up on my left foot right doesn't want to be on that block for as long as possible yeah and that kind of forces me to do this that also has a secondary effect of keeping me lower right yeah and the third thing I'm gonna focus on is my arms after the lesson I asked him to race but it was early in the season and these guys weren't about to blow out a hamstring going full-tilt for a hundred meters against the guy like me but as you can see he really didn't have to they had me beat the moment we left the blocks they weren't even trying which is obvious they're two of the fastest people on earth but why are they so fast really crazy to find out I talked to this guy inside the heal recovery issues are almost irrelevant I'm Peter Weyand I'm the director of the locomotor performance lab here at SMU or we study the mechanical and physiological basis of human performance he invites world-class athletes like Robinson and Rogers and not so world-class athletes like me to run and be studied at his lab in Dallas how with a lot of really cool and really expensive equipment have some high-tech custom toys a force instrumented treadmill and ultra-high speed cameras with motion detection capabilities that are very precise his research shows that the key to elite sprinting is how much force you can put into the ground and how fast Usain Bolt or another elite male sprinter at top speed will put down five times their body weight typically in 0.09 seconds or nine hundredths of a second if a person can put out those kinds of forces they have a shot at earning a place on the labs record board these are the records so 11.7 - for a guy that's that's cooking it's smoking yeah do you know what do you know about what that translates to in miles per hour just under 27 what's a respectable what's what's like I would say well you're not being polite or I would say anything you know eight eight and a half would be pretty respectable we're gonna we're gonna shoot for respectable got my socks speaking of respectability we didn't have people put on a ridiculously tight outfit go do it then I got marked up with infrared dots and strapped into a safety harness to run on the labs force-sensing treadmill why the harness just listen to this thing it sounds like a jet taking off it can go 90 miles per hour Wayne had me warm up first with a jog then he had me running for m/s it's about an eight minute mile five meters per second about a five and a half minute mile and then so this treadmill is moving at six point seven meters per second that translates to exactly 15 miles per hour which translates exactly to a four-minute mile pace I got to feel like Roger Bannister for about two seconds finally I talked out at eight meters per second which is just shy of 18 miles per hour good that's right at the threshold we had the treadmill set to 8.1 m/s yeah I was doing my best to keep up with it but I was drifting back a little bit drifted I think we said 20 centimeters which means I was actually running it around 8 flat ok so how does that compare to a world-class sprinter so not bad not bad it's a respectable speed and an elite sprinter a male will hit you know somewhere around 11 and a half or so fastest ever recorded speed is 12 4 from Usain Bolt 12.4 meters per second that kind of speed is what propelled bolt to his world record time of 9.5 8 seconds but 50 years ago the great barrier for sprinting was a 10-second hundred meter back in 1968 American Jim Hines burst across the line in nine point nine five seconds his record stood for 15 years since then sprinters have been whittling away hundredths of a second at a time track surfaces have improved trainings gotten better and sprinters these days wear these really tight outfits that helps with wind resistance as athletes seek every advantage timing and verification technology have also gotten more sophisticated any record set with a tailwind greater than two meters per second doesn't count but way and says there aren't many ways for athletes to get faster that's because of basic physics sort of in big picture science how fast humans can run 100 meters is really it's it's a it's all force in relation to body mass so we use use the analogy of athletes as being force application machines and force in relation to mass is what determines how quickly a sprinter can accelerate it's what determines their top speed and there are intrinsic constraints on force remember it's all about maximizing your force in as little time as possible let's look at how that concept applies over the course of a race starting in the blocks so there's the initial push out of the blocks which is really dependent upon athletes the muscular force or strength capabilities and they they get up to almost 1/3 of their top speed before their foot initially hits the ground so by far that's the greatest portion of acceleration I saw this happen firsthand as Robinson and Rogers blasted away from the start line and from me and then there's a transition phase where what they do step-to-step changes a little bit in terms of how much force they can apply they can apply progressively more as they this ago step by step further into the race but they're typically by step twelve or so there are 85 90 % of their max speed it doesn't take very long that max speed is what wind examines in short bursts at his lap and they're the mechanical determinate is no longer sort of their intent intrinsic strength but but rather it's it's the motion it's that their mechanics or technique of sprinting to drive the limb down into the ground forcefully they essentially throw up quick sharp punch at the ground and that maximizes their force capabilities and then the last 30 meters of the race they typically slow down and they do so simply because muscle fatigue is very rapidly and the period of time that they can sustain their top speed is very short it's less than a couple of seconds way it looks at the forces an athlete applies during their run and it's in these numbers you can really see why an elite sprinter is so much faster once they get rolling the force on the ground and again that what they're better doing that everyone else is applying force in the time available the force on the ground becomes a motion based mechanism where they use their limbs to throw a punch at the ground let's look at how much more of a punch a pro can give the grant on the left is me running at seven point eight two meters per second on the right is Robinson doing ten point eight five meters per second I'm hitting the ground as hard as I can to keep up with the treadmill with a force roughly three times my body weight Robinson weighs about as much as I do but he's throwing almost five times his body weight at the ground and he's doing it way faster than I can and that weight is key look what happens when you take away gravity this is Usain Bolt running in a microgravity airplane and even he can't generate any push back on earth that raw strength has to be precisely applied to the track and that's form look at how much higher Robinson brings his heels and his knees on each stride those mechanics are what allow him to maximize the forces legs deliver to the ground and clock hundred meter times just under ten seconds of course you get even faster when you're training this season is there a benchmark you're shooting for or are you just kind of trying to get the best you can man I I really want to run nine eight this year this upcoming year if God's willing it's faster than that I'll be I'll be happy but I really want to run...