Swimsuits should not cover the neck, must not extend past the shoulders and ankles, also the suits' thickness and buoyancy is limited. Maximum thickness of the sole of the shoe should not exceed 20 mm for some events and 25 mm for another. Some medications are forbidden, similar are allowed, others are forbidden unless you have asthma. Rules of the modern Olympics, while every single of them sounds reasonable, may seem insane as a whole.

Sick of that, we decided to conduct our own Olympics. Now participants can use everything they want. The only restriction is that the only allowed energy source is one's muscle power.

Our Olympics will have only one event. There is a track of about 10 km long, and the goal is to get from the start to the finish line as fast as possible. Now I give some details.

  1. The track is a regular medium-distance running or cycling track. It is a several meters wide road paved with asphalt. Mostly strait, but turns are possible. Terrain is mostly flat with insignificant hills.
  2. You can assume that you will be the only participant on a track at a time, there will be no contention at any time.
  3. You can use any mechanical devices (skates, bicycles, pogo sticks) unless they do not provide you extra source of energy. It is pretty hard to formalize it in the real world, so let's stick to this: any device you use should be capable of running through the same track after the race is finished without refueling of any kind, except for wearing out of some parts.
    • Horse: not OK. The animal has its own source of energy and muscle power.
    • Bicycle (not electric): OK. You use your muscle power to run the bicycle. Tires wear out during the ride, but it is a natural process.
    • Bicycle powered by a flywheel: OK, if the flywheel is stopped at the beginning of the race. When the race starts, you can use your muscle power to rotate the flywheel and to conserve some energy in it.
    • Pacemaker: not OK. It has a built-in battery. You can use it, however, if you charge the battery with a dynamo machine right after the start.
  4. You should not rely on any renewable sources of energy like wind and sun. Would it be sunny or cloudy, would it be calm or wind in the face, it should not affect your result significantly.
  5. However, you may expect mild weather conditions. 15-20 Celcius, partly cloudy, no precipitation.
  6. You are not required to travel by ground. If you think autogyro will give you victory, feel free to try. In this case we assume that the track is strait and has no significant shortcuts.
  7. If you use something you must bring it from the starting point. If you need a bottle of water, carry it with you. If you need a spare tire... well, let's assume that nothing unexpectedly breaks.
  8. Regarding doping: no regulations follow. You can assume that modern rules apply, or you can assume that any medication is allowed and the athlete will be stuffed with pills to show his best and pass away after the race. Any assumptions are fine.

Your team is enrolled in the competition. You can pick any living athlete to train: if you wish so, Usein Bolt will compete for you using the devices you'll make. You have five years and one billion dollars to prepare for the race. What means of transportation will you use and how quickly will you complete the track?

I definitely have not covered some loopholes, so if you see any please leave a comment. I hope that the spirit of the competition is comprehensible. Answers for different lengths of the track are welcome.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding, please give a good read to our help center. There you will find that we cover questions about the rules of your fictional world, while this question sounds more about a story set in your world and as such not a good fit $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ One potential loophole is surrounding the start and finish lines. Notably, do you need to start completely behind the start line and end completely behind the finishing line? If not, you could do something like remove a tooth, put it in a self-pressurized pneumatic gun, and shoot it 10km across the finish line. Technically, a "part of yourself" will have crossed the line. Also, does this apply to the vehicle too? That is, could I make a 10km long bike and have only the athlete and the very end of the bike behind the start line? $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 10:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Another loophole revolves around bad sportsmanship. With a billion dollars, you could have trained dogs, teams of snipers, and a squadron of fighter jets to kill all the other athletes before they can compete the race. If, instead, you want to be sneakier, simply poison the other athletes beforehand so that they are sick and unable to compete or bribe the judges. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 10:22
  • $\begingroup$ Another potential loophole involves the whole fueling argument, because the athlete will (obviously) need to eat after the race so that they can compete again. Potentially, you could have the athletes "diet" consist of something with extreme energy density like olive oil, or even better, gasoline, that they then regurgitate into the fuel tank of a motorcycle at the beginning of the race. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 10:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Loophole: Before race, swallow 2 gallons of mostly-edible light oil. When race starts, vomit your stomach contents into the motorbike's fuel tank, start the engine(which is made for that grade of oil as fuel), and race off at 300km/h (motorbike, because you are unlikely to fit enough fuel for a car to do 10km at high speed in your stomach). Wot, the rules say nothing about deriving energy from food in your stomach! $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 10:32

1 Answer 1


Sumo Wrestlers on Tricycles

That's right! I said Sumo Wrestlers on Tricycles; and I'm not even joking!

"The three laws will lead to only one logical outcome" — Viki, iRobot

If we take a look at the rules you've established, there are a few that jump out, and we can draw some conclusions & optimizations based them:

  1. The distance is 10 miles
  • This means sprinters like Usein Bolt automatically fall off the list. Their bodies are built to go fast but for short distances. They burn high energy fuel (sugars), of which there are little in the body, to reach those speeds.
  • To last 10 miles, your competitor will need to burn both sugars and fat for energy.
  1. Doping and chemical intervention are permitted & participants are allowed to die after the race
  • This means the best solution is one where the participant has just enough weight (fat, sugars, water, and muscle) to reach the finish line and die.
  • If they survive at the finish line, it means they could have been further optimized to reduce their weight or increase their body's burn rate.
  • Additionally, it means they can be given pain killers so their human brain doesn't realized they are killing themselves.
  1. Human-powered bicycles, etc. are permitted
  • Running is far less efficient then rolling: (1) Wear on feet after traveling 10 miles is a substantial contributor to loss of speed and (2) wheels allow for the use of gear reduction to directly convert strength to velocity, without fighting against the limits of bio-dynamics.
  • Any winning solutions will mandatorily use gear reduction. It allows us to maximize the strength-to-speed conversion to a point not reachable with bone-based physiology.
  1. Flying is permitted
  • However, we will not be flying!
  • Flight lets you go fast, but it's terribly inefficient. It requires a much higher energy output fuel than fat/sugars to reach a sufficient propeller speed for rapid flight.
  • Consider a wheel, it has traction with the ground, meaning that nearly all the energy you put into it gets converted to velocity.
  • A propeller, on the other hand, has traction only with the air. Thus, a lot of energy is lost to various fluid effects (turbulence, heat, sound, non-forward-direction escaping air, etc. etc. etc.).
  • A human powered flight machine won't be able to travel as fast a land-based one. Based on current records: flight gives a max of 32km/hr (History of human-powered aircraft - Wikipedia) vs. bicycle reaching max of 280km/hr (Cyclist Neil Campbell has 174mph Guinness World Record confirmed - BBC)
  1. Lastly, pacemakers are permitted if they are charged by the human during the race
  • This means electricity can be used to produce optimized muscle movements
  • This also means rudimentary computers or timing circuits are permitted
  • Dugs + electricity + mathematically perfect timings = ideal motion without mistakes; not slowing down due to fatigue; and no freewill (aka. the perfect, dystopian athlete)

Putting it all together

This means the winning candidate would need to meet these conditions:

  1. Be extremely strong -> To operate a vehicle at high gear-reduction ratios
  2. Be highly fat (I say this respectfully) -> They need enough energy in their bodies to maintain a high strength output for 10 miles
  3. Ride a bicycle with a huge gear-reduction ratio (or a tricycle to improve traction with the road by having two driving wheels, like a car has)
  4. Be drugged to avoid feeling fatigue
  5. Be drugged to numb freewill
  6. Have electrodes implanted into their muscles to give them mathematically perfect motion, and also make sure they are pushing hard enough to burn every last drop of fuel in their body by the time they reach the finish line.

So, who fits this description? Why of course it's Sumo Wrestlers on Tricycles!

And how fast can they complete this track? In under 2.2 minutes!

10km / ++280km/hr x 60min/hr = less than 2.2mins

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The question says 10 kilometres, not 10 miles... Cyclists are quite able to maintain high output for 10km (or even 10 miles) without the fat reserves you describe, especially as burning fat is much less efficient than "normal" energy consumption from digestion. Not to mention that the top speed you mention is from a cyclist who was towed most of the way by a Porsche! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 2:52
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 Thanks for catch! // You have a good point, but as you mentioned, a normal cyclist cant reach 280kmph on their own — that's eactly what I'm getting at too — to reach those speeds, on your own, you need an immense amount of physical strength (due to overcoming many gear reduction steps), as well as a lot of energy to reach top speed on your own. $\endgroup$
    – Vladimir
    Commented Aug 28, 2021 at 0:41

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