In the majority of sports, records continue to be broken. Throughout the year’s incredible records have been set that we perceive to be insurmountable. In recent times the records of Phelps and Bolt stand out as two incredible athletes that will surely be tough to beat. Yet they will be beaten. As time progresses humanity’s ability continues to increase and although it seems unlikely now, those records will fall. Yet it is clear from looking at the data that although records continue to be broken they are being broken by a smaller and smaller amount. The difference between the best and the ‘best in the future’ is becoming such a small margin that it is becoming more and more difficult. We are approaching the limits of human possibility. There will come a time when a man runs as fast as physically possible and it sets a record that can’t be broken.
This is clear to all sports scientists who study the history of records. They can see how the curve is flattening and that we are approaching a peak. This trend is happening in all sports. There is one sport that appears as an outlier though and that is speed eating. Speed eating has seen some of the most incredible record-breaking achievements that have thrown all data out of normality. Yet scientists believe it is approaching a maximum now as well.
In 1980 the record for speed eating hot dogs was ten in ten minutes. In 2018 that record has been smashed and stands at 75 hot dogs. In 1980 people would have told you it was impossible but today it continues to be surpassed. In 1983 Calvin Smith ran the 100m at 9.93 seconds and set a world record, Usain Bolt set a new world record in 2009 at 9.58 seconds. Clearly the hot dog record has changed by a much more dramatic amount yet Bolt’s is likely the greater achievement.
Experts say that this makes sense. Running has been around for a long time while hot dog eating is a new sport. When a sport is introduced the records start off at a low base. As people become interested the records get higher and higher. As the sport gets taken more seriously people invest more money in researching and understanding the sport, records break again. As time goes on people tune their diet and everything they do for that sport, so the records continue to break. However after a period of time, there is nothing left to give, no stone left to turn over, so the records start to slow down. By analyzing the time and distance between record breaks you can actually work out the virtual limit for that record.
In hot dog eating the future record is believed to be 85 hot dogs. Scientists estimate that this will be the peak amount and after this record is achieved, no one will break it. In 100m running, it is believed that a record of 9.27 seconds is possible. Scientists took Bolt’s force production and applied the theoretical limits on contact with the ground to find this number. In hot dog eating the secret to success today has been stomach expansion. Athletes eat meals that actually broaden their stomachs. They eat huge amounts of soup and kale so that it inflates the stomach over time, like slowly expanding a balloon. However the stomach, like a balloon, can only go so big.
The sport of hot dog eating is now being taken more seriously and it is for this reason that we are getting an understanding of the limit to the possible records. Who knows though, in 1980 if you had asked the man who ate 10 ten hot dogs what he thought of someone eating 75, he would have laughed. Perhaps the future will break the limits of our perception as well.