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Science

The Physics of the World's Fastest Man 137

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the robotic-legs dept.
cylonlover writes "The Honourable Usain Bolt (Order of Jamaica; Commander of the Order of Distinction) is often held out as the world's fastest man. The reigning Olympic champion in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints as well as a member of the Olympic champion 4x100 meter relay team, Bolt is the first man to win six Olympic gold medals in sprinting, and is a five-time world champion. Long and lanky at 6 ft 5 in (2 m) tall, he towers above the (mostly) much shorter sprinters. How has he managed to come out on top for the past five years? A team of physicists from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) has analyzed Bolt's past performances in the 100-meter sprint to understand what makes a record-breaker."
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The Physics of the World's Fastest Man

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  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday July 26, 2013 @01:28PM (#44393227)
    Nothing makes you run faster than fleeing.
    • by arth1 (260657)

      Except, of course, vehicles
      To my knowledge, Andy Green [wikipedia.org] is still the fastest man on Earth, and Stafford, Young and Cernan [wikipedia.org] the fastest overall.

      • by tragedy (27079)

        Vehicles make you _run_ faster? At first I thought you were making a joke about being chased by vehicles as opposed to the GP's world's fastest woman. Then you mentioned people who have gone fast in vehicles and now I'm sort of scratching my head. I suppose you were just replying to the story title rather than the GP's comment.

        • by arth1 (260657)

          Vehicles make you _run_ faster?

          Yes. How do you run to the grocery store? Or run across the sound? Did Burt Reynolds put on sneakers in Cannonball Run?

          Anyhow, got to run.

          • by tragedy (27079)

            I can see where you're coming from, but I don't think that language argument works in context.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      There's a reason Bush was quick to duck the shoes.

  • Why? Because sprinters - and all pro runners - wear running shoes and they make running somewhat more efficient than running barefoot. I'd wager money on very few if any sprinters being able to do 100m in under 10 sec if running barefoot.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Seems rather counterintuitive to state that, as kinetic energy is surely being converted to heat as shoe cushioning absorbs impact. Would be nice to see some research that backs your claim of greater "efficiency" through shod running vs. barefoot (says the AC who didn't bring any evidence to back his own claim).

      • The shoe doesn't create the impact!! How would it make you faster to absorb it in your joints than in shoe padding? Ignoring the fact that track shoes are designed and optimised for this exact purpose how would they possibly slow you down? Gah! mount stupid indeed.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by jkflying (2190798)

        No, most of the energy is stored in the rubber so as the foot leaves the ground it gives a push. Using rubber makes you faster.

        • And where does that push come from? From it slowing you down on the down stroke. You'll never get all that energy back. It is more of a matter of the timing I think not the energy it gives you but that it gives it to you when you are trying to move against gravity and takes it away when you are moving with gravity. It levels the max effort a bit across the whole stride.

          • by jkflying (2190798)

            The energy comes from your foot hitting the ground, energy which would otherwise be absorbed by your joints and muscles. Of course you'll never get all of it back, but you'll get more of it back than if you didn't have the rubber there.

            • by tragedy (27079)

              The back and forth on this is a bit amusing on both ends. I'm just going to interject here that your joints, tendons and muscles are also designed to store back energy and release it in your next step. So, claiming that the running shoe is more efficient because it absorbs energy that would otherwise be absorbed by your joints and muscles really doesn't say anything about the relative efficiency of the two systems being compared.

              • by jkflying (2190798)

                SHHHHH!!! I'm trying to win an argument on the internet :-p
                Leaving out information you know that the other person doesn't is one of the key methods of winning debates ;-)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why? Because sprinters - and all pro runners - wear running shoes and they make running somewhat more efficient than running barefoot. I'd wager money on very few if any sprinters being able to do 100m in under 10 sec if running barefoot.

      More likely because of the spikes on track shoes that give runners a lot more traction, which is especially useful when accelerating at the start.

    • by cdrudge (68377) on Friday July 26, 2013 @02:14PM (#44393657) Homepage

      Right. And a speed skater is more efficient than someone who is sliding on bare feet. The bow makes the archer much more skilled then just trying to throw the arrow with their bare hands. And don't even get me started about the new Trampoline sport...I think they should have to do all those moves with just jumping with their legs.

      • by Viol8 (599362)

        Running tends to get pushed as an example of pure unaided human physical performance - which it isn't. The sports you mentioned are not.

        • by dimeglio (456244)

          Running tends to get pushed as an example of pure unaided human physical performance

          I never heard of it as such but it is rather evident, with swimming being even purer.

          • by snadrus (930168)

            Far from it. Because of the suit improvements, in the last Olympics we saw 3rd-place ahead of the previous record line. And that was in a number of the races. There were support teams for some people helping them stretch. Their meals are carefully made for them while they train. What's unaided?

          • by skegg (666571)

            At one point, swimming was much less "pure" [wikipedia.org] than even running.

            I don't know what would constitute a "pure" sport: wrestling? gymnastics? judo?

      • And don't even get me started about the new Trampoline sport...

        What, have they finally gotten around to building courts for playing Kosho? [youtube.com]

        Be seeing you.

    • I have a problem with the vagueness of the term "world's fastest man". If the criteria is for a person to reach the maximum speed without the aid of external forces like engine forces or gravity, then I think that Sam Whittingham [wikipedia.org] is the world's fastest man. He rode a recumbant bike 133kph (83mph) [youtube.com] over level ground without motor pacing. His bicycle was enclosed by an aerodynamic shell designed by a European sculptor (I can't find his name but he is not an engineer). The record has also been contested by

      • by dimeglio (456244)
        The way I see it, that would be the fastest man-powered vehicle but I see your point.
        • Wouldn't sky diving be the winner? (gravity assist for downhill count?) Or an astronaut on a spacewalk orbiting the earth. I think we're being a little pedantic here. Sure, maybe they should have said "world's fastest runner." I believe that most people would understand this if they read the article and not a one sentence title.

      • by tragedy (27079)

        What about people who can beat that speed stark naked with no devices of any kind using only the power of their legs? It can be done with the right technique. Care to guess how?

        • by tragedy (27079)

          I was hoping someone would guess that you can beat that record by jumping off a very high cliff and assuming a dive position. I wonder if you can count the cliff as equipment in that case?

  • need biochemists (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KernelMuncher (989766) on Friday July 26, 2013 @01:49PM (#44393421)
    To analyze why Bolt is the fastest man, instead of a team of physicists they should hire a team of biochemists. Who wants to bet Bolt is entirely clean of steroids ?

    [ Note that Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, two top Jamaican sprinters, both recently tested positive for banned stimulants. ]
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by h4rr4r (612664)

      Why is this a big deal?

      If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying. I just wish we would be totally open about it. Since we can probably assume all the runners are at least trying to do something like that, we can just ignore it.

      This is like trying to find a winner for the tour de france that was not doping in some form, good luck. That sport is more properly referred to as cheating on two wheels.

      • by Viol8 (599362)

        The problem is if you make sport a performance drugs free for all then people are going to overdose and kill themselves. Its better the way it is.

        • people are going to overdose and kill themselves.

          And the problem with this is. . . ?
        • Re:need biochemists (Score:4, Informative)

          by Kielistic (1273232) on Friday July 26, 2013 @02:31PM (#44393817)
          Worse than that. It will practically be a requirement to overdose and kill yourself to be competitive.
          • by Synerg1y (2169962)

            Yep to compete, "clean" athletes would no longer have a choice but to join their doping counter parts. Doping is a lot more complex than just steroids though, one can argue that taking a performance multi vitamin introduces non-natural performance enhancements, it's however the more extreme stuff that's banned.

          • Re:need biochemists (Score:5, Interesting)

            by erice (13380) on Friday July 26, 2013 @03:37PM (#44394569) Homepage

            Worse than that. It will practically be a requirement to overdose and kill yourself to be competitive.

            Indeed. In racing, any advantage that is not forbidden is mandatory.

            So, if you eliminate rules prohibiting doping then all competitive athletes will have to max out on drugs, steroids, and red blood cell enhancements. "Max" will be whatever allows the most performance while still allowing the athlete the stay alive long enough to finish the race. Some will go over. The rest won't live much past their time in the spot light.

            • by umghhh (965931)
              I actually do not see a major problem with that. I do not see any benefit of having professional athletes anyway. The olympic ideals are all overdue.The countries that control better do not get medals at Olympic Games. This is as simple as that. If one accepts this as entertainment then all is ok. The only problem is the actual sports fans that do the sports for fun and to get better. Come to think of it this way you can have two venues - ones with sexed up entertainment agents and the other ones where hard
              • by Kielistic (1273232) on Friday July 26, 2013 @11:26PM (#44397267)

                You don't see any problem with people killing themselves because they were told their entire life by their coach, parents etc. that winning X was the single most important thing?

                You don't like professional sports (not that I blame you) but some people do. Should they have to throw their lives away just so they can participate?

                To make it a little more personal to you what if the government decided it was okay for corporations to choose their employees based on their willingness to take performance enhancing drugs? And I'm not talking about caffeine here; I mean the real powerful ones that are illegal. A lot of corporations won't care that they turn you into a slobbering vegetable in 5 years- they got what they wanted from you. But in those 5 years many other companies have had to introduce similar rules to stay competitive. Now you can't get into your chosen profession unless you are willing to take the very real risk that you will ruin your life doing it. Is that fair?

                • by umghhh (965931)
                  You seem to believe that the athletes are innocent and take drugs unwillingly which I find very unlikely. If that were true.they (or their) families would have suied the ass out of the guys that did provide them the drugs yet there are not cases I can hear about where that is true.

                  I do not like professional sports - this is true. Not because I do not appreciate hard work and skill that results from it but because I am annoyed by amount of money and hypocrisy flowing around it. You say that they have to th

                  • by hawkfish (8978)

                    To make another and last analogy. There was a chess game between two masters.One of them used a cigar and walking etc as means of distracting his rival. There was an uproar but I think, not nice as it was, it was allowed. I would not accept that in my private game but they played for the glory and money and the trick was allowed so we have to agree with the result (and change rules if we did not like it).

                    The cigar smoker was Emanuel Lasker and there was an agreement before the match that Lasker would not smoke. About 10 moves in, he pulled out a cigar and laid it on the table. His opponent called over the referee and complained that Lasker had agree not to smoke, but the ref pointed out that he had not in fact lit the cigar. To which his opponent replied "But Lasker himself has often said that the threat is more important than the execution!"

                  • You've missed the point entirely and verbosely. You have decided that it's just entertainment and you don't care about it so to hell with everyone who does- they should die if they want to participate. That's a pretty useless viewpoint in society.

                    You come off as bitter that a few athletes get paid a lot (many of them do not) and so you think they should suffer. Rambling about a few individual musicians that did recreation drugs is about as off-topic as you can get here. There is no performance enhanci

                    • by umghhh (965931)
                      Talking about misunderstanding....

                      I am not bitter that some earn silly amount of money - I just do not see the point of making an effort to stop them from using drugs if they want to. This has never worked. Keeping the delusion that professional sport is the same sort of activity that we mortals can indulge in, if we only wanted, is just silly. It is also counterproductive and potentially dangerous for these few that would live the illusion of say Olympic dream. Example is again in any discipline - we star

              • I actually do not see a major problem with that. I do not see any benefit of having professional athletes anyway. The olympic ideals are all overdue.

                The Olympic ideals are a modern myth that was born when the Olympics were rebooted in the modern era. The original Olympics did not live up to this ideal. This article is well worth reading: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jun/22/olympic-games-ancient-modern [guardian.co.uk]

              • by dargaud (518470)

                I actually do not see a major problem with that. I do not see any benefit of having professional athletes anyway.

                Same here, but the solution I see is to simply ban professional races (no prize money and sponsored athletes are not allowed to race). But some say that big competitions are an alternative to war. Seems to work for football in Europe...

        • What value do they bring to society? They are famous/inspirational because they can run fast jump high or whatever. Do you think if a drug comes out that would make your doctor smarter/better at diagnosis but had equivalent health risks and you had the choice you'd go with the "natural" doctor? Wouldn't want him/her to be taking unnecessary risks after all. People that define themselves by their career will do whatever it takes to be the best. That is what it means to be competitive.

      • by Vegan Cyclist (1650427) on Friday July 26, 2013 @02:15PM (#44393677) Homepage
        Well, keep in mind there are also athletes who want to push their natural limits without PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) - this doesn't really leave them many opportunities (i'm from the cycling world, and have read heartbreaking stories of racers who opted out of doping to the ruin of their career, while dopers profit...)

        There are other factors too, such as 'safe' limits for doping products. Everyone's going to want to push it even more of course... I'm in favor of clean sport.
        • Re:need biochemists (Score:4, Interesting)

          by jkflying (2190798) on Friday July 26, 2013 @04:11PM (#44394953)

          What we really need is two competitions: one with as much doping as you think your body can take, and another which is as strict as possible. That way we still have the 'pure human' competition, but we can also see crazy muscleheads with no testicles getting into full rage mode on the uphills.

          • by Reziac (43301) *

            That's a good idea. If you can't stop it, at least put it out where everyone knows what's going on. Participate in whichever sport you wish, but once you go PED, you can't go back.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying

        That's a non sequitur. "Trying" is about enhancing your performance through practice, training, technology, drugs, etc. "Cheating" is about being a fraud, lying, and claiming accomplishments that you haven't performed.

        "Trying" is what advances the human race. "Cheating" is what holds us back. If you are going to break the rules, then break them, but be honest about it.

      • As they did with bodybuilding they should have both a "clean" and an "anything goes" Olympics. Any and all forms of drugs, genetic mods, etc. are allowed in the latter. I would love to see a human run the 100m in 6 seconds, then burst into flames after crossing the tape, swimmers with gills, etc.
      • by quantaman (517394)

        Why is this a big deal?

        If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying. I just wish we would be totally open about it. Since we can probably assume all the runners are at least trying to do something like that, we can just ignore it.

        This is like trying to find a winner for the tour de france that was not doping in some form, good luck. That sport is more properly referred to as cheating on two wheels.

        Right now doping really only happens at the elite level, and the elite level athletes have elite doctors that stop them from hurting themselves.

        But if you allow it at the elite level then the far larger number of athletes in junior and the sub-elite level are also going to dope. And they don't have the elite doctors to supervise so a lot of them are going to seriously harm themselves.

        The current approach seems to be to allow the doping but to put up enough road blocks so the effect is kept relatively minima

    • by pspahn (1175617)

      Also note that documents revealed from the Biogenesis scandal apparently name a bunch of athletes from other sports, not just MLB, including boxing, tennis, basketball, NCAA athletes, and MMA (was there ever a doubt about those guys, though?)

      Ryan Braun (a deliciously ironic last name) is suffering the worst of the witchhunt right now, but rest assured that a year or two from now, you're going to be hearing about folks across the entire sporting spectrum that have been taking these macho cocktails. People l

      • the worst of the witchhunt right now,

        Witch-hunt kinda implies that he isn't guilty. He isn't appealing this decision....baseball players ALWAYS appeal....they must have him dead to rights or he and the union would be pitching a fit over it instead of going along with it.

    • by pla (258480)
      Note that Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, two top Jamaican sprinters, both recently tested positive for banned stimulants.

      Stimulants != steriods, Doctor.

      And for reference, caffeine counts as a stimulant banned by the IOC.
      • by oreaq (817314)
        They tested positive for Oxilofrine. That's an amphetamine, not coffee.
    • The real competition, is who can take the most drugs . . . and not get caught. So sports are actually a very nerdy business. You need an excellent medical team to push the level of drugs just right to the line . . . without going over it. There is probably a lot of interesting biochemical technology behind all that.

      Tour de France? More like, Tour de Drugs.

    • by Gman2725 (2947573)
      Notice how they tested positive for banned stimulants and not steroids. They were trying to cut body weight. Bolt has always been really lean naturally since even his younger days.
    • by edxwelch (600979)

      Obviously you are wrong. Bolt himself has stated 'Drugs scandals have harmed sport but I am clean'. There's never been a case in the history of sport where an athlete has been caught lying about taking drugs, so that's pretty much case closed.

    • by quantaman (517394) on Friday July 26, 2013 @03:39PM (#44394591)

      I certainly wouldn't be shocked if Bolt was doping but he's the one champion from the traditionally dirty sports where I actually think he could be clean.

      Basically Bolt is a freak, he has a physique that is obviously different from other elite sprinters. If his a-typical physiology is inferior I don't see how he could dope enough to achieve the dominance he has. And if his physiology is superior then we don't understand the scale of the physiological advantage well enough to know that he'd need drugs.

      It's like when the Kenyans showed up on the distance running scene. If there were drugs the Europeans were taking they didn't make a difference, the Kenyans had an entirely different body type which gave them an advantage that drugs couldn't match.

      • by number17 (952777)
        I cheered for Ben Johnson until they caught him. Bolt is now the champ in my book, unless they catch him or someone else beats his time.
    • by thePig (964303)

      This is slander. Unless he is tested positive, it is extremely unfair to him and the hours he put in to be labelled a cheat without a shred of evidence against him. Cynicism is all well and good - but this goes beyond that. Shame to the mods also.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Friday July 26, 2013 @01:51PM (#44393437) Homepage Journal

    The 44,183.2722 & 88,366.5444 potrzebie sprints.

  • That's what made me the fastest man in the world too.
  • Bolt? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Andrio (2580551) on Friday July 26, 2013 @01:59PM (#44393527)

    I'd probably be that fast too if I had "Bolt" in my name.

  • Of course, some awesome mathematical analysis from Data Genetics: http://www.datagenetics.com/blog/july32013/index.html [datagenetics.com]

  • by bazorg (911295) on Friday July 26, 2013 @02:32PM (#44393829) Homepage

    You know what I'd love Usain Bolt to do? Or if not him, another top sprinter like him? While in their prime years, take a couple of seasons off and not participate in competition. Then announce he's going to take performance enhancing drugs just to see just how much faster it would be possible to run if it were not for sports rules.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Plenty of major athletes can juggle their time even better than this. They take performance-enhancing drugs _and_ compete in major competitions!

      • by bazorg (911295)

        true (and +5 funny, of course), but if the athlete/test subject did not have worry about rules and his long term health, then we could find out just how fast a man can run, rather than how fast a man can run without being caught breaking the rules of his sport.

  • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Friday July 26, 2013 @02:44PM (#44393987)

    The guy is simply pushing himself so hard he's almost escaping The Matrix [vimeo.com].

  • by Anonymous Coward

    s his wife happy about that ;)

  • Thats a stretch, guy's the biggest jackass in the running world.
  • The article says that he experiences 1g of drag at 27mph. That means if you threw him out of a plane, he'd fall at less than 30mph and probably live. Sounds like there's an error in their analysis somewhere.
  • The paper assumes "that in the 100 m sprint he is able to develop a constant horizontal force F0 during the whole race", fits an air drag formula to laser measurements of an actual race, and concludes that Bolt expends 81.58kJ of mechanical work during a 100m sprint lasting 9.58 seconds. That may sound OK on the face of it, but 81.58kJ/9.58s is about 8500W (11.5HP) - more than four times the 2000W instantaneous maximum power output of elite track sprint cyclists [wikipedia.org]. OK, maybe you believe in the overwhelming

    • by rHBa (976986)
      Surely having longer limbs than your average sprinter gives him higher gearing so 'running out of leg speed' is less of a problem for him than his competitors.
  • I know that this being news for nerds the main focus is going to be the tech or the physics related to the issue, but living in Mexico and seeing all the different ways research by such an institution could be better spent on more productive endeavors, the article just kinda irritated me.

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