Olympics

6 Olympic feats that reveal the potential limits of human performance

Team USA via Giphy

Team USA via Giphy

The Olympics is the quintessential event for witnessing incredible feats of human performance.

Most of us will never run as fast, jump as high, or throw as far as our favorite athletes.

So what makes them so great at what they do, and the rest of us so average?

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According to science, it’s a mixture of training methods, access to resources, mental fortitude, and genetics — though we’re not 100 percent sure how human athletes have gotten this great.

And who’s to say we can’t get even better?

Here are 6 Olympic feats that help us understand the limits of human performance:

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6. “The Biles”

Simone Biles, American’s most decorated gymnast, has her own class of moves that many gymnasts won’t even attempt.

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Bile’s coordination, balance, and muscle control help her seemingly defy physics when she’s off the ground. If she’s moving fast enough, Biles can flip three full times in the air a feat she famously accomplished in 2021.

5. World Record Smasher

Katie Ledecky beat several world records in swimming in the last decade — part of a trend for women athletes in recent years.

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One study predicts the massive achievements in women’s sports likely have to do with social factors such as increased encouragement and higher expectations for female athletes, rather than physical ability.

4. Fast as lightning

You may never be as fast as Usain Bolt, who can run 100 meters in 9.58 seconds. But physiologists suggest that someday, someone will probably top that ridiculous record.

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The amount of force you use to propel yourself forward, coupled with the rate at which you can apply that force, seems to matter most when it comes to running fast.

But for now, a faster human speed than Bolt’s is purely theoretical.

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3. Keep the pace

Kenenisa Bekele holds several Olympic records in endurance running — a feat that takes more than just physical capabilities.

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Research shows that mental endurance is also an important factor when running, swimming, or biking long distances.

However, there’s a catch: only so much confidence can actually get you to complete an endurance task successfully.

2. How high can you fly?

Javier Sotomayor broke the world record for high jump in the 1992 Olympics — and is the only person to have cleared a jump over 8 feet high.

There’s a technique that helped propel him to success.

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The Fosbury Flop is a tactic where athletes arch their backs as they fly back over the bar — lowering their center of gravity and making it possible to soar higher. It wasn’t commonly used until the late 1960s.

1. Throwing Power

Ryan Crouser holds the world record for shot put, which he set in 2021. Several critical factors had to work together to crush what was formerly a 31-year-old record.

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Launching a shot put ball comes down to what angle you throw at and how much force you can launch the ball with. Some of that can be obtained with training, while research suggests other biological factors might set you up for success.

Read more stories about science here.

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