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How fast can we go? Check out this article

November 23, 2009 |  4:05 pm

Usain If you're interested in the upper possible limits for human speed, be it on land, ice or in water, there's an  article by Laura Beil in the current issue of Science News that nicely explores the topic.

It explains, among other things, how sports scientists really don't know -- or at least can't agree on -- what makes premier runners excel in their sports despite all the knowledge that researchers have amassed on the elements that contribute to speed: ratios of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscles, force with which feet hit the ground, size of Achilles tendons, toe length and more.

Quoted in the article is evolutionary biologist Thomas Roberts of Brown University in Providence, R.I., who says: "It’s surprising how little we understand when it comes to tying performance to our physiology and anatomy.... We don’t completely understand the basis for top speed.”

And then there's technology -- such as new ice skates (klapskates) that led to 14 broken world records at the 1997 speed-skating World Cup in Calgary because they gave the skater more force and less friction. As the article also notes, we don't know what inventions lie in the future. Or what sports officials will do with them. The LZR Racer, designed by Speedo and NASA engineers, and other swimsuits that followed reduce drag and compress the body in a way that gives the wearer an edge, the article explains. "Swimming’s governing body, FINA, has said it plans to ban the suits in 2010, but has not announced what, if anything, will happen to records set during the polyurethane spree," the article notes.

Read the whole article here.

Here's an article from 2006 that we ran on the topic, and another on sprinter Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive.

And, while we're at it, here's another that focuses just on the human foot -- yep, just the foot, from a whole honking special Health section we ran on "The Foot" back in 2007.

--Rosie Mestel

Photo: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt--what makes him so fast?  

Credit: Valery Hache / AFP / Getty Images

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