Usain Bolt: Human, All Too Human?

Sports writers reconsider the limits of the human body as Bolt obliterates two world records

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In the last two days, Usain Bolt has smashed two world records--his own world records--by margins so inconceivable that sports pundits have been driven into transports of ecstasy. This is how the London Times began its rhapsodic story on Bolt's first record in the 100 meter dash:

Amazing. Simply stunning. And a score of other tame adjectives to boot.

Then, despite disclaiming that he was too out-of-shape to lower the bar, Bolt did a repeat performance at the 200-dash. Here's the video of his rocket-shot:

Commentators are naturally full of speculations about how far Bolt could possibly take track and field. Bolt's rampant record-breaking has also increased their appetite for dramatic, explosive races. Most strikingly, many are asking variations on a single question: How much faster could humans possibly run?

  • Bolt Smashes Every Expectation, muses Kevin Fylan at Reuters. "Just as he did in Beijing, he went all out for the line and when you consider that the time of 19.30 he clocked at the Olympics already defied belief for most of us this was almost beyond description."
  • Defying His Height, says an editorial in the Hindu Times that quantitatively examines Bolt's physical profile. "All sprinters know that height is a handicap at the start but Bolt has started defying even this bit of conventional wisdom."
  • Not Merely Fastest, But Greatest, argues Spiro Zavos in The Roar. "The distinction between fastest and greatest is one that involves fact and opinion. My guess is that the only other candidate for the greatest tag is Jesse Owens...But in my opinion, Bolt is the greatest sprinter we've seen, for now."
  • A Quantum Leap, marvels Simon Rogers at The Guardian in a post that graphs Bolt's astonishing, logarithmic rise in speed. "The lightning Bolt changed the 100m rules."
  • Records That Won't Be Broken for Decades, argues Ethan Siegel at Scienceblogs by charting the rate of progression in 100m times. "See that Usain Bolt is running much faster than humans ought to be running right now. This should give you an inkling of just how special these performances we're seeing from him are. We shouldn't be seeing times like this until the 2030s. Which means, honestly, that it ought to take around 30 years for someone else to come along and break his record. "

Besides generating bombastic copy, Bolt has radically enlivened many track lovers' notion of the possible in a sport that has occasionally been depressed by allegations of doping among its heroes.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.