Runner using starting block to start his run on running track in a stadium. - Tifosi Sports

History’s fastest runner isn’t who you think it is

Few athletes are regarded as highly as the Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt. Bolt still holds the current men’s record in the 100-metre running event – he set the record at an event in Berlin in 2009, winning the race in a time of 9.58 seconds – and is often called the “fastest man in the world”. That doesn’t mean Bolt is the fastest runner history has ever seen, though.

In his book Manthropology: The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male, Australian anthropologist Peter McAllister claims that prehistoric man would easily beat his modern counterparts in almost any physical endeavours, and certainly in one of the basic Olympic athletic disciplines: running.

McAllister goes so far as saying modern man is “the worst man, period… As a class we are in fact the sorriest cohort of masculine homo sapiens to ever walk the planet”.

McAllister bases this claim on historical and archaeological evidence pointing to the physical superiority of our ancient ancestors.

One of these instances is the case of fossilised footprints, believed to belong to Australian aboriginal people who lived roughly 20,000 years ago, found in a claypan lakebed in New South Wales, Australia.

One particular footprint, ascribed to a person only known as T8, is of particular interest to McAllister. Whilst Usain Bolt was able to reach a top speed of 42 km/h when breaking the world record in Beijing, T8 was able to achieve speeds of up to 37 km/h while chasing after – or running from – prey (or predators) on a soft and muddy lake edge. Studies base this estimate on the placement and depth of the depression of the footprints in the lakebed, and the distance between them.

McAllister believes that with the spiked shoes, rubberised tracks and modern training that characterise modern athletics, T8 and his contemporaries might even have been able to reach speeds of up to 45 km/h – faster than Bolt.

Says McAllister, “We can assume they are running close to their maximum if they are chasing an animal. But if they can do that speed of 37 km/h on very soft ground, I suspect there is a strong chance they would have outdone Usain Bolt if they had all the advantages he does.”

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