No matter how good you are, there's always someone out there who is better than you. In terms of Olympic records, it all depends on the athlete's abilities. But can we really set the bar even higher for this year's Olympics?


The truth is that there's a hard biological limit to just how fast a person can run or how high someone can jump. So once we reach these limits, does that in turn affect our ability to set new Olympic records, or are we heading towards a plateau?

There are many factors that determine this, as Gavin Thompson points out in Significance Magazine. He noted that today's athletes resemble nothing like those from a century ago; they're bigger, stronger, and faster than those of the past. And lets not forget the technological and medical advancements, access to first-class trainers to training facilities, plus the application of sports science, competition calendars, and standardized regulations.

But as athletes get better and their techniques continually refined, records start to become few and far between. As Thompson points out, a number of studies have suggested that the limits on human capacities peaked in track-and-field in 1988. Between 1991 to 2007, it took eight athletes a total of 16 years just to shave off 0.16 seconds off the 100m dash record.

However, making such predictions is pretty much near impossible. Just when a record is declared unbeatable, someone comes around to threaten it. One good example is Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, ran the 100m in just 9.69 seconds, setting a new world record. A year later, he surpassed his own feat with an astonishing 9.58-second run at the 2009 Berlin World Championships.

And before you think Bolt is a one off, note that the previous games in Beijing saw 33 different sports records being broken: one in women's team archery, four in weightlifting, five in athletics, two in track cycling, and the remainder in swimming.

Such accomplishments demonstrates just how difficult it is to truly predict limits on performances. As long as there are athletes out there continually willing to push their limits, we doubt this phenomenon is going anywhere anytime soon.