Human upper performance limits in the 100-m sprint remain the subject of much debate. The aim of this commentary is to highlight the vulnerabilities of prognoses from historical trends by shedding light on the mechanical and physiological limitations associated with human sprint performance. Several conditions work against the athlete with increasing sprint velocity; air resistance and braking impulse in each stride increase while ground-contact time typically decreases with increasing running velocity. Moreover, muscle-force production declines with increasing speed of contraction. Individual stature (leg length) strongly limits stride length such that conditioning of senior sprinters with optimized technique mainly must be targeted to enhance stride frequency. More muscle mass means more power and thereby greater ground-reaction forces in sprinting. However, as the athlete gets heavier, the energy cost of accelerating that mass also increases. This probably explains why body-mass index among world-class sprinters shows low variability and averages 23.7 ± 1.5 and 20.4 ± 1.4 for male and female sprinters, respectively. Performance development of world-class athletes indicates that ~8% improvement from the age of 18 represents the current maximum trainability of sprint performance. However, drug abuse is a huge confounding factor associated with such analyses, and available evidence suggests that we are already very close to “the citius end” of 100-m sprint performance.
Haugen and Tønnessen are with the Norwegian Olympic Sports Program, Oslo, Norway. Seiler is with the Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences, University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway. Address author correspondence to Thomas Haugen at Thomas.Haugen@olympiatoppen.no.