How Much Higher? How Much Faster?; Building the Elite Athlete; Scientific American Presents; by Bruce Schechter; 4 Page(s)
Last year, during a rare stationary moment, runner Maurice Greene paused to reflect on world records. "You don't try to break them," he told a reporter. "You prepare the best you can, and they will come." A few weeks later in Athens, Greene's faith and preparation were rewarded when he set a new world record for the 100-meter dash, completing 45 precise and powerful strides in exactly 9.79 seconds. Greene had bested the previous record by five hundredths of a second-an eye blink, but also the single largest reduction in the past 30 years in this event, the ultimate sprint in track and field.
Can improvements in this and other sports go on? If athletes continue to refine their preparation, will world records continue to be the reward? Sports scientists and coaches wrestle with these questions on a daily basis. On the one hand, it is clear that there must be some limit to human performance: nobody who is still recognizably human will ever run faster than a speeding locomotive or leap tall buildings in a single bound. But so far no Einstein of the athletic universe has come along to set down the limits, although some have tried.