Starts With A Bang

# How fast can a human possibly run 100 meters?

The all-time record is Usain Bolt’s 9.58 seconds, set in 2009. What is the fastest time, ultimately, for an ideal human body?
Key Takeaways
• Beginning in 2008, Usain Bolt began shattering world records at sprint distances, with his fastest time ever in the 100 meters of 9.58 seconds, set in 2009, standing for nearly 15 years at present.
• Other than Bolt, no human has ever run 100 meters in under 9.69 seconds, although Noah Lyles and others will attempt to break that record this summer at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
• Many have wondered what the ultimate limit is for human speed in the 100 meters: arguably the fastest race of them all (to date). Math, physics, and human physiology must hold the answer.

In 2008, Usain Bolt won Olympic gold, setting the 100 meter world record.

His 9.69 second finish was bettered in 2009: running 9.58 seconds.

No other runner, before or since, has broken the 9.60 second barrier.

But with the ideal human:

• anatomy,
• start,
• acceleration,
• endurance,
• and top speed,

how fast could we run a perfect 100 meter race?

Initially, you must wait 0.10 seconds after the gun before moving; any faster is a false start.

Human reaction time is limiting; any faster is evidence for anticipating the gun.

Elite sprinters can apply peak forces of 800-1000 pounds (3560-4450 Newtons) to each limb.

Beyond ~1300 pounds, ideal human leg bones would surely break.

During the fastest starts, humans accelerate at rates up to 7.0 meters/second².

The fastest top speed ever achieved by a human was Bolt’s 12.42 meters/second (27.8 mph).

However, anatomical studies suggest peak speeds up to 15.6-17.9 m/s (35-40 mph) are achievable.

In practice, top speeds are sustainable for only 3-4 seconds.

An:

• ideal start (0.10 seconds),
• constant acceleration to top speed (2.56 s),
• and sustaining a 17.9 m/s speed for the race’s remainder (4.31 s),

would yield a time of 6.97 seconds.

Any faster, and you’re no longer human.

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