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Usain Bolt’s Record: Scientists Debate Whether It’s Breakable


The 100m race is the most watched event in athletics competitions. Those few seconds of high adrenaline put us on the edge of our seats as they determine the fastest person on earth. 

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Over the years, records have tumbled which is one of the most exciting things of any race. That said, In 2009, Usain Bolt delivered a record of the ages. Before we tell you whether it’ll ever be broken, here’s a background of how it all came about. 

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Usain Bolt’s Record Overview

Usain Bolt is the best sprinter that the world has ever seen. He’s written records across the events he competed in – 100m, 200m and the 4 by 400m but the one that stands out is his 2009 World Championships record in Berlin. 

Before that, Usain Bolt completed the Reebok Grand Prix in New York in 9.72 seconds. In the same year (2008), he clocked a staggering 9.69 seconds at the Olympics in Beijing, China. This was a world record time and no one would have imagined that anyone would go lower.

However, Usain Bolt had one more in him. In the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, the Jamaican blew the field to complete the 100m race in 9.58 seconds

He broke his own world record and ran the fastest time in the history of the 100m. To date, no one, not even Usain Bolt before his retirement, has come close to 9.58 seconds.

In fact, Bolt remains to be the only sprinter to have run below 9.60 seconds. He wasn’t able to repeat this feat again. The fastest he went after that was 9.63 seconds. Some of his closest competitors, Yohan Blake and Tyson Gay have clocked 9.69 seconds.

The big question is ‘will Usain Bolt’s 100m record ever be broken?

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Can Anyone Run Faster Than Usain Bolt?

A study by the Sport Biomechanics at the University of Bath conducted by Dr. Polly McGuigan and Dr Aki Salo has evaluated historical times to see whether it’s possible for a human being to run under nine seconds.  

Dr Polly McGuigan and Dr Aki Salo who produced a paper on this admit that whilst it may not happen in our lifetime, one day someone will run under the 9-second mark. 

Historically, the world record time in the 100m had been improved from 0.16 seconds when Maurice Green lowered Jim Hines’s record written in 1968 to 0.21 seconds by Usain Bolt’s. The fact that this happened over a period of 10 years, suggests to Dr. Polly and Dr. Aki Solo that we might be getting closer to a sub-9-second race.  

They draw more optimism from the fact that human beings have been running competitively now for just over 100 years. This according to them isn’t enough to draw limitations as to how fast human beings can run. 

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Further, technology is improving. Shoes, spikes, training gear and tracks are consistently being upgraded to provide the perfect conditions, another sign that the 100m can only get faster. 

Coaches can also improve the athletes. Dr. Polly and Dr. Aki refer to the strengthening of the bum and other groups of muscles that allow sprinters to get a good start. Additionally, they also refer to the improvement of the length of the athlete’s stride and speed.

“In his world record run in Berlin 2009, Usain Bolt ran at 12.4 m/s in his fastest phase (2). His step length was 2.77 m and his step frequency was 4.49 Hz. For a human to run 100 m in under 9 seconds, it would require maximum velocity to reach about 13.2 m/s. Such velocity would require, for example, a step length to be 2.85 m and a step frequency of 4.63 Hz.”

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Evolution of Men’s 100m Record

The first 100m record was registered by World Athletics, formerly the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) in 1912 in Stockholm Sweden. American sprinter Donald Lippincott clocked 10.6 seconds

His record stood for 10 years before Charley Paddock shaved off 0.2 seconds to write a new world record of 10.4 seconds. In 1930, Percy Williams lowered it further to 10.3 seconds.

Six more athletes finished the race in 10.3 seconds until Jesse Owens ran 10.2 seconds in 1936. Willie Williams broke it further to 10.1 seconds. 

Breaking the 10 Seconds Barrier

In 1960, another milestone was on the horizon. Who would finish the 100m race under 10 seconds? German runner Armid Harry clocked 10.0 seconds. His record stood for eight years until 1968 when Jim Hines ushered in the era of sub-10-second race. He completed the race in 9.9 seconds and held the record for 14 years.

In 1991, Carl Lewis lowered the record to 9.8 seconds. Eight years later, America’s Maurice Green took it to 9.7 seconds. 

Jamaica’s Dominance in the 100M Race 

Jamaican sprinters have dominated the 100m since Maurice Green’s record. Asafa Powell was the first to break it when he ran 9.768 seconds before American Justin Gatlin shaved off 0.002 seconds. Powell regained his world record and broke it three times. 

The first was in 2006 when he ran 9.763 seconds, then 9.762 seconds and in 2007, 9.735 seconds. He held on to these until Usain Bolt arrived. Bolt first claimed the world record in 2008 after he clocked 9.72 seconds in the Reebok Grand Prix in New York. 

He went on and broke his own records twice, at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where he completed the 100m race in 9.69 seconds. In the 2009 World Championships, Bolt lowered that to 9.58 seconds and is the current world record. 

Do they think that Usain Bolt’s world record will be broken? Is it possible to go any faster? If you want to understand more about world records and running, check out some of these books on Amazon.

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