Ever since Jim Hines, Ronnie Ray Smith and Charles Greene all broke the ten-second barrier on the same night in Sacramento in 1968, one question has nagged away at the world’s fastest men: could you do it in nine?

Sports fans love a milestone but there is something about the nine-second 100m question that stirs uneasy feelings. Ask the experts and their first response is a unanimous “no”, followed by a sheepish “well, maybe”. The tantalising possibility remains.

We put the question to Dr Sam Allen, Lecturer in Biomechanics at Loughborough University; Nick Beresford, CEO of Enertor, whose insoles are worn by Usain Bolt; and Toby Glyn, D3O’s Product Manager – Footwear.

Technique or technology

All three felt restrained from coming out with a definitive ‘no’ by the recognition that human performance, knowledge and technology are always advancing.

They instinctively feel that the advances of the last 100 years have plateaued, so that lopping over half a second of Bolt’s 9.58 seems like a very distant dream.

Graphic showing the last five 100-metres world records

“I’d be surprised if you could make substantial improvements to the techniques that people have developed for sprinting,” says Dr Allen.

“Athletes want their spikes as light and stiff as possible so there’s no loss of power. You couldn’t make sprint spikes any stiffer,” says Glyn.

“I think that record will stand for a while,” says Beresford.

“Eventually a super-athlete will come along, a bit like Wayde van Niekerk who broke Michael Johnson’s 400m record at the Rio Olympics.”

So how can Bolt be improved upon? His start is the obvious weakness, although Dr Allen points out that the times Bolt ran tell a very different story.

“When he broke his world record, his start was by no means poor,” Dr Allen explains. “His split time after 10m was the second fastest of all time. I think you’ve got a fundamental trade-off between being tall and accelerating.”

Injury prevention

Short of finding a new breed of super-fast athletes, Beresford believe the biggest opportunity for improvement will come from training.

“The technology is good but there’s still more to go,” he says, explaining that the injury prevention benefits designed into modern equipment are enabling athletes to spend more time perfecting their performance.

“Our insoles incorporate D3O® to reduce shock on impact by 44 per cent and provide a 36 per cent energy return at take-off. Something else we’re looking at is advanced muscle measurement.

“The technology is so much better now that you can weave it into a pair of shorts or a top and it can give predictive analysis that will help from both an injury point of view and a performance perspective.”

All this knowledge will undoubtedly bring the 100m world record down, but whether it ever reaches the nine-second mark… It seems unlikely, although all three experts agree on one thing: never say never.

This article was originally published in Impact Magazine: Issue 01, which is available to download.