In Summary
  • The scientists, the biomechanists, the boffins who ponder the workings and capabilities of the human body will be salivating at the prospect of another breakthrough.
  • Just how fast can a human run? Success for Kipchoge will open a new chapter in that particular book.

VIENNA

Eliud Kipchoge's bid on Saturday to become the first person to run a marathon in under two hours will excite scientists and sports followers alike.

The scientists, the biomechanists, the boffins who ponder the workings and capabilities of the human body will be salivating at the prospect of another breakthrough. Just how fast can a human run? Success for Kipchoge will open a new chapter in that particular book.

For the sports fans, the run is, admittedly, of limited value in the sense that it is not an actual race. But they will be well aware that once a door on achievement is nudged ajar then it isn't long before it is barged wide open.

For them Kipchoge is the pacemaker who will drag the rest of the road-running world with him.

"Any human being can go beyond their limits," says the marathon world record holder.

"No human being should be limited in their thoughts, in what he or she should be doing."

In that he is following in a rich tradition of people who pushed the limits and broke new ground in the process.

At some point in the early 1870s - the official date is not recorded - a young Pennsylvania student Walter Halben Butler, who would later make it into the US House of Representatives, became the first person to be credited with running the 100-yard dash in under 10 seconds.

It would be almost 100 years before the 10-second mark fell in the 100 metres.

Charlie Paddock could not do it, nor could Jackson Schultz and Harold Abrams. Not even the legendary Jesse Owens.

Instead, Bob Hayes is credited with running the first unofficial sub-10 - a 9.9 in 1963. He lowered the official world record a year later when he won gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 10.06.

It was Arkansas runner Jim Hines who officially cracked the mythic mark, with a gold medal winning time of 9.95s at altitude in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.

Today, the record belongs to Usain Bolt who broke the record three times, lowering it from 9.74s to 9.58s, which he ran at the world championships in Berlin in 2009.

Women have yet to crash through the mark. Florence Griffith-Joyner's record of 10.49s was set over 30 years ago in 1988.

METRIC RECORDS

The passage of time has gilded the quest to break the four-minute barrier for the mile, a distance not seen often in today's metric athletics world.

It was a big deal back in the 1950s as the Australian John Landy and Briton Roger Bannister competed to be the first.

Bannister, who had come fourth in the 1952 Olympic 1500m, got there first. The medical student ran 3:59.4 seconds to break the world record at Iffley Road in Oxford and shatter the psychological ceiling.

Six weeks later Landy brought it down to 3:58.0. By the end of the decade it was down to 3:54.5 - the current record stands at 3:43.13, set by Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999.

The four-minute mark remains a barrier for the women - world 1500m champion Sifan Hassan took Svetlana Masterkova's record in July with a run of 4:12.33 in Monaco.

The Mediterranean has long been the source of stories of divers plunging into Poseidon's kitchen in the search of treasure, usually in the shape of sponge and pearl or perhaps to pilfer the wreck of an unfortunate ship.

It was in the Med, just off the island of Elba that a free diver descended for the first time to a depth of 100 metres. No breathing apparatus, just a powerful set of human lungs and the desire to push the limits.

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