November 09, 2005

Peak Performance?

A report from two British scientists claims that today's athletes are running at or near the limits of human performance:

For the first time we have identified that there could be a limit to performance and that world records will not continue to rise.

This quote, and the BBC News article, insinuate that "previous scientific research [showed] that there was no limit to human performance." What does that mean, exactly? That someday, if we just wait long enough, human beings will break the sound barrier? I gather from the study abstract that the authors have suggested an improvement to the "linear-improvement-with-time" model of human performance. That's nice and all, but surely it's obvious that a linear improvement can't continue forever. Did any scientist ever seriously suggest that there is no limit to the speed that a human can run?

The real conclusion of the study — that that limit is being reached right now — is interesting enough on its own. You don't need to make it sound like previous scientists in this field were idiots.

(Thanks to Statue John for pointing to the BBC News article at The Ultimate Olympian.)

POSTSCRIPT has a better description of the method and the results. Interesting stuff!

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