A Day Will Come When World Records Can't Be Broken

There's a limit to how fast a human can go, but we're not there yet.

09/08/2016 1:10 PM AEST | Updated 11/08/2016 11:32 AM AEST
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Britain's Adam Peaty broke the world record of the men's 100m breaststroke on day two of the Rio Olympics.

Three world records were broken during one night of the Rio 2016 Olympics.

It seems humans have a limitless capability to get faster, stronger and more capable, spurred on by high-performance training, wearable technology and winning psychology.

But will there come a time when we reach our limit? When will a world record be made that cannot be broken?

The experts, say yes, that time will come but we're still a long way off.

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U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky wins gold and sets a new world record in the Women's 400m Freestyle.

Australian Institute of Sport senior sports physiologist Hamilton Lee said we were yet to reach the limits of the human body.

"I think that time could come. I think the amount of world records that get broken will slow down, and they'll only be broken by small increments because we're getting closer to the limit," Lee said.

Performance coach James Cook University associate professor Joann Lukins agreed.

"I think we've seen performance at a level now like we never have before but I don't think we're there yet," she told HuffPost Australia.

"I envisage some sports like the 100m sprint will come a point where it simply won't be possible to go any lower but we're not there yet.

"There are still enough elements for potential improvement, whether it be physical, tactical, technological, psychological -- it's all in the scope."

These are the factors leading to world record smashes.


At Monash University Wind Tunnel, champion cyclist Anna Meares is no stranger.

Monash UNiversity
Cyclist Anna Meares trains inside the Monash University Wind Tunnel to determine drag and wind resistance.

Meares and her team experiments with ways of limiting wind drag in the high-tech tunnel to learn how to sluice through the air.

Senior lecturer and tunnel manager David Burton said every element of wind resistance was analysed.

"You can really break the world record in a speed event in two ways -- you can increase power output by being bigger and stronger or you can reduce your resistance.

"In cycling, you're typically battling against 90 percent wind resistance."

Monash University
Wind resistance is analysed between cyclists.

Burton said everything from cycle positioning to the fabric of their suits was tested in the wind tunnel.

"This year we actually did a lot of work on the skin suit. We actually tried to optimise the suits for each rider with certain materials in different places."

Cycling events start August 10.


Perhaps the greatest area for improvement exists not in our muscles, but in our brains.

When psychologist Neil McLean became interested in the idea of sports psychology, it was in its infancy.

"The sport psychology field didn't really exist, there wasn't much literature around, but it was an interest for me -- to see if I could apply what I knew about psychology to physical performance," McLean told HuffPost Australia.

He went with the Australian Olympic team to Barcelona in 1992 and has been working with Olympic athletes since.

U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps preparing himself for a heat.

"The standard misunderstanding is that sports psychology is about motivation, more often than not, people at an elite level want it too much rather than not enough. They can be trying too much, too hard and it's more about channelling the effort," McLean said, who is also a lecturer in psychology at the University of Western Australia.

McLean said it wasn't helpful to aim to break a world record.

We hear so much about mindfulness and sport was one of the first areas to encourage people to focus on the moment.Whether you break a record has to be incidental.Neil McLean

"It's important to focus on the process rather than the outcome. Even if a 100m swimmer's event is over in less than one minute, you've still got one minute of swimming to focus on.

"If you're thinking of the result, you're a minute ahead of yourself.

"We hear so much about mindfulness and sport was one of the first areas to encourage people to focus on the moment.Whether you break a record has to be incidental."

Dylan Martinez / Reuters
U.S. decathlon runner Ashton Eaton prepares for a heat in the London 2012 Olympic Games.


University of Canberra assistant professor in Sports and Exercise Psychology Richard Keegan said one of the factors that allowed an athlete to push themselves came down to a better understanding of the pain threshold.

"We're working right now on the concept of dealing with the perception of pain and discomfort when you're at your limit," Keegan told HuffPost Australia.

"We're finding more elite performers tend to tolerate that discomfort better and one of the things we're learning when training is how to manage that discomfort."

Gary Hershorn / Reuters
Cathy Freeman feels the burn in the Women's 400 metres qualifying round at the Atlanta Olympics.

Keegan said the research was based on research that showed someone may say their muscle is exhausted, and they can't move it any more, but an electrode can still make it fire.

"The muscle can still function perfectly safely, it's the brain that's exhausted."


The VCR has been banished form most homes but Lukins said it had revolutionised sport.

"A rugby league coach I worked with once told me that in his opinion, the most significant innovation in the game was the video player because it gave the ability to go back and look at previous games," Lukins said.

Lee said the same could be said for YouTube at the AIS.

Getty Images/Blend Images
There's more information available than ever before.

"A lot of coaches and athletes use YouTube to check out their competition. It helps refine how people prepare," Lee said.

At the AIS, technology goes far further than YouTube videos. He said coaches had more information than ever before.

"Previously we brought cyclists and runners into the laboratory to monitor their performance but now with the miniaturisation of technology, we can be tracking their performance throughout a race," Lee said.

He said this information could lead to world record scores by understanding an athlete's abilities with pinpoint precision.

"We can analyse a performance over a race to determine what type of power outputs can be held for different periods," he said.


Lee said be believed there was great potential for more records to be broken around the globe.

"Sport is still not widely available to everyone," he said. "Think of some Islander nations where the general population is comparatively very well muscled. Imagine a well funded bodybuilding program there."

He said the Olympics were a natural place to break records.

"It's the world's best athletes racing against each other," Lee said. "Some people will structure their year so they peak at the Olympics."

McLean agreed.

"It only happens once ever four years and for some people, it's just one golden opportunity."

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