What are our limits?

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By Tommie Kendall

After watching Usain Bolt of Jamaica vaporize the world records for the 100- and 200-meter sprints at the World Track and Field Championships in Berlin last week, I threw my hands in the air and said no more. There’s no way a human can run faster than those times. Or, I thought after a pause, is there?

Bolt completely demolished his own record in the 100 last Sunday, shaving away 0.11 seconds with an eye-popping 9.58. Then, three days later on Thursday night, I watched Bolt run an even-more-amazing time of 19.19 in the 200 while becoming the first man to run under 19.30 or 19.20. I immediately thought that was probably the fastest I would see in my lifetime, no doubt. But I’ve been wrong before.

In 1996, as an upcoming freshman in high school, I was at a basketball camp in Memphis watching the Atlanta Olympics in a hotel room when I thought I had just watched the fastest human these eyes would ever see. Michael Johnson sprinted out of the blocks, around the turn and tore up the homestretch to a new world record of 19.32 seconds in the 200. The experts considered that 30 years ahead of his time; I considered it 60.

Just 12 years later, at last year’s Olympics, Bolt’s long legs entered the blocks and changed all that with world records in both the 100 and 200. Then, last week, he ran even faster in becoming, by far, the best sprinter ever.

That got me thinking: how close are we to the limits of the human body? And, are there any limits at all? How fast can we go?

During the 1940s and through the early 1950s, scientists worldwide said no man can ever run one mile under four minutes. It’s not possible, they said, and if it did happen then it would instantly kill the runner. In 1954, Roger Bannister ran a 3:59 to prove them all wrong. And now, there have been thousands more who have followed that magical sub-4 mark with the record today standing at 3:43.

There have been other sports that the so-called experts have put limits on, too, and those barriers continue to be broken. As long as there are freak-of-nature athletes — those that continue to wow fans and do the impossible — I have no doubt that the records will continue to fall.

I consider Babe Ruth to have been a freak when he took baseball to a whole new level — compare his stats to other baseball players of his day and you’ll see what I mean. In basketball, Michael Jordan was a freak and LeBron James is fast approaching that distinction. Lance Armstrong, before his retirement, was a freak on the bike. Michael Phelps is a freak in water. And now Bolt has joined that short list.

So what are our limits? And are there any at all? Thanks to Bolt, my perspective has now changed. Only time will tell how fast, far and long we can go.

Tommie Kendall can be reached at (502)845-2858 or sports@hclocal.com. Follow his Twitter account at www.twitter.com/hcsports.