The motto of the modern Olympic Games is citius, altius, fortius; translated as fast-er, high-er, strong-er. We continually want and expect records to be broken and human sporting performance to improve year-on-year. But can we really expect athletes to improve forever? Jonathan Edwards, who still holds the world Triple Jump record 17 years after setting it, explores when and more importantly why, we'll get to the limits of human endeavour?
Sporting performance seems to be down to biology, hard training and the occasional technological intervention- but some unexpected societal forces have an influence on what makes the perfect athlete: population mixing and growth; world wars; globalization and even the cycle of the Olympics themselves.
Even something as simple as population size has an influence. A researcher at Stanford University, California has compared thoroughbred horses, greyhounds and humans. Both greyhounds and horses speeds have plateaued - for horses there has been no improvements in race times since the 1940s possibly because they have been bred from a small population of Arabian stallions in the 18th century. And while humans still have a growing population, according to his research humans are rapidly approaching their plateau with times, distances, heights and speeds just level off? His analysis says we are getting close to that point and that no man will ever run faster than 9.48 seconds in the 100m. Will that man be Usain Bolt and will he do it in 2012?
Jonathan uncovers new research by scientists who've found data from races going back 120 years to the original modern Olympics in 1896 and finds out about why war, globalization and even the Olympics are influencing our ability to perform in unexpected ways.