How Fast Can A Human Run?

Every four years, the premier event at the summer Olympics is the 100 meter dash, the swift sprint that you can literally miss by sneezing. In the past two summer games in London and Beijing, the man who won the race was the Jamaican phenom Usain Bolt. Bolt quickly earned the nickname of being the fastest man on earth, which no one has yet been able to take away.

His talent is simply that he generates more power than other sprinters. But he also does something else that’s fascinating. He has found a way to reduce the cross section of his body, which, in effect, reduces the aerodynamic drag while he runs. That was the finding from a study from the National University of Mexico that created a mathematical model to analyze Bolt’s running form, and the possibility that he can run even faster in future races. In fact with a few more tweaks to the way he runs down a track, the world’s fastest man can cut his world record time of 9.58 seconds to 9.46. Small decrease, but in competitive track and field, it’s a big difference. And just for anyone still unimpressed, that time would translate to 10.6 meters per second, or an average of 23.7 miles per hour.

The one thing even more interesting about Bolt isn’t how much energy he produces, but how much he wastes. Only 7.79 percent of his energy is used to move himself forward, the researchers found, leaving 92.21 percent spent in the fight against air resistance. That essentially means that for the fastest man—and any sprinter trying to break world records—that the way the weather conditions, like the way the wind is blowing, the day you compete might actually be even more important than how hard he trains.

Changing Planet