The sprinter Usain Bolt is considered the fastest runner in the world. Credit: ToNG!? / Www.flickr.com
Read out Fast, faster, fastest: People have always competed against each other in a sporting comparison. In addition to the victory in top-class sports is especially the fight against the clock and the world record. The Jamaican Usain Bolt set the temporary climax in the pursuit of maximum speed with his spectacular world record in the 100-meter sprint at the World Championships in Athletics in Berlin 2009. The question remains: Is there a human speed limit? Mathematicians and physicists have explored this question with statistical methods and theoretical considerations - and have found an answer: "There will always be new records, " says Matthias Ludwig, professor of mathematics at the University of Education Weingarten. Material scientist Adrian Bejan of Duke University in Durham confirms: "There is no limit!" Usain Bolt, the fastest man the world has ever seen, raced across the tartan track in Berlin at an average speed of 37.58 kilometers per hour. That's the speed of a galloping horse. Compared to the 112 kilometers per hour achieved by a chasing cheetah, however, the three-time Olympic champion was downright slow. When will a sprinter come that is even faster? Since the beginning of electronic timekeeping in 1932, the world record on the shortest Olympic sprint distance of 10.64 seconds has already improved by more than a second.

To predict how the world records will develop in the future, scientists use, for example, the so-called extreme value theory. In doing so, they assume that all the times have happened by chance. "From these times one tries in a relatively extensive procedure to determine the maximally highest speed", Ludwig explains. The mathematics professor uses a simpler model to predict future excellence: "I take the data as it is and try to make a turn." By adjusting this curve to previous world records, he came to the result of 9.55 seconds. However, it is very difficult to make absolute statements.

Biomechanics, for example, claimed a few years ago that nobody would ever run faster than 9.7 seconds. "Then Usain Bolt came and suddenly it works." And: "There's a lot going on. He could have been faster that day. He ran with an open shoelace. According to calculations, he would ideally have been one or two tenths faster. "Bolt himself was 9.40 seconds as a target. Ludwig calls the idea of ​​the ultimate world record "definitely wrong": "Humans simply always strive for new records: higher, faster, further."

The material scientist Adrian Bejan sets in his theoretical approach not on experience, but on the laws of physics: "The development of world records in sport is an example of the phenomenon of evolution. And there is no end to evolution. "His research is based on the" Constructal Law "he discovered in 1996. This means that every existing arrangement is constantly being replaced by an even better one. Examples of this construction law are river courses, forms of vegetation or the types of animal movement. Will read: "We humans move with time on the earth always easier and faster." Display

In the course of his research, Bejan discovered three peculiarities: First, he found in animals a relationship between height and speed. The bigger an animal of a species, the faster it was. The physicist also found out: Even the fastest athletes in running competitions follow the "Constructal Law". The basis for ever faster times is obviously not only hard training and the best medical care, but also the height. "The record holders are getting bigger, because the bigger ones have advantages, " explains Bejan. Of course purely statistically. However, if two athletes are the same size, Bejan's "true size" length comes into play: it is the distance from the floor to the center of gravity of the body, which in humans is approximately at the level of the pelvis.

In the sprint, a higher center of gravity is better. This benefits people with African roots, whose average is three percent higher than that of Europeans. The result: "A 1.5 percent advantage for speed". "For today's conditions that's enormous - it's gigantic, " says Bejan. His discoveries point to a direct relationship between body measurements and the achievable speed.

In addition to statistical explanations, however, there are other factors that speak for more world records. "Over time, there will be more and more beneficial training methods and perhaps even new rules, in addition to better athletes. And before you know it, an athlete will run much faster than Usain Bolt. "The physicist is sure of that. That's exactly what it is, what makes the sport. Bejan concludes: "Without the prospect of ever new records, every sport will eventually become drab. The 'Constructal Law' counteracts boredom - it's easy and exciting. "His direct answer to the question of the human maximum speed is therefore:" There is no limit! "

By ddp correspondent David K ndgen

science.de

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