Every four years, athletes from around the world travel to the Olympic Games to compete in the 100-meter dash, hoping to earn title of fastest man or woman on Earth. A new statistical analysis suggests that in the year 2156, the winner of the women's event may finally outrun her male counterpart.

Andrew J. Tatem of the University of Oxford and his colleagues collected the finishing times in the men's 100-meter dash run in 1900 and from 1928 (when the women's race was first run) to 2004. The winning times for both genders have been steadily decreasing, with female competitors improving at a slightly faster clip than the males. By plotting the results against the year of competition and extrapolating the results, the team determined that the fastest human on the planet could be a woman after the 2156 games. In today's issue of the journal Nature, they report with a 5 percent margin of error that the event could take place as soon as 2064 or as late as 2788, however.

Tatem is the first to admit that the study represents a purely academic exercise. A disease researcher by trade, he says the new study was a result of noticing a strong and interesting trend in sprinting. Indeed, the relationship was surprisingly linear and no other model fit the data as well. We decided to throw caution to the wind and see if current trends continued, what would happen in the future, he remarks. Potential confounding factors that are not addressed in the new analysis include illegal drug use, environmental conditions on race day, national boycotts and timing accuracy. In addition, some researchers contend that humans are hurtling toward the limits of their potential and that the winning times predicted for 2156 (8.079 seconds for the female champion and 8.098 seconds for the male winner) are simply beyond our grasp. The next chance to check the trend comes in 2008 at Beijing.