It’s hard to tell exactly where it is, but it stands to reason that there is a theoretical upper limit to human physical achievement. At least, without the use of performance-enhancing drugs, or some future-tech like bionic arms or something.
Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak and Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game are a couple of sports records that will probably never fall. We’ll probably never have another .400 hitter in Major League Baseball, either.
Do you suppose that there will eventually come a point (though it may take a few centuries) that the limit has been reached in every major sports category, and no new records will ever be set?
There are definitely records that will never fall because the structure of the game has changed - a ton of baseball pitching records are untouchable simply because the dead ball is no longer around and we don’t have a 3 or 4-man rotation anymore (and thus pitchers get far fewer games per season).
But those that rely on exceptional feats, like Dimaggio’s 56-hitting streak, are definitely possible. Heck, didn’t Ichiro get to 40+ at some point? Exceptional talent may always arise, and stuff like hitting streaks are half luck anyway, IMO.
Also, I think someone hitting .400 or better can still happen. Tony Gwynn hit .394 in the strike-shortened 1994 season so it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
On the other hand, I don’t think anyone’s going to top Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game. For that to happen, a team would have to be almost entirely dependent on one player for their offense and that’s not how basketball is played now. It reminds of the joke of what was the most common thing said on the night Wilt set the record: “Hey Wilt, can you pass the ball at least once?”
DiMaggio’s streak was a statistical anomaly. It’s not even like he was better than all other hitters during that 56 game period, he just happened to get one hit in every game.
Over time, as the games change, some records become more beatable than others. Football passing records are dropping like flies. Baseball suffers a bit because there’s more specialization in pitching which makes both pitching AND hitting records more difficult to attain, of course steroids helped with some recent record breaking.
I do think we can visualize a point where new records in things like running or swimming or throwing begin to get more difficult. Someday we will reach the pinnacle of what one can do with the human body, and the rest is just random variation on that ideal. So, “Usain Bolt’s grandson” is the fastest a person can be, but he may not run the fastest races because he was 5/100ths of a second slow on the start, someday another maximally fast person will be 4/100ths slow and beat his record.
Any record that constitutes a compiled statistic can, and probably will, be broken. Not even Cy Young’s win record is safe because sooner or later a truly dominant pitcher will come around and he will be dominant for 30 years thanks to medical advances.
A record based on physical performance, though, will reach an end point. A human can run only so fast, can throw something only so far, and can lift only so much. One day someone will set a record that won’t ever be beaten. Maybe tomorrow, maybe 100 years from now, but it will happen.
Statistically, what you would expect to happen is that as we approach the absolute limits of human ability the time between record-breaking performances will increase. Each time a record is broken you would expect the new record to last longer as it will require a bigger outlier to beat it in the future and they become increasingly rare.
If records suddenly start falling at a higher than usual rate in a sport, that would be a good sign of drug abuse, or a rules change, or an improvement in equipment or training.
It would be interesting to look at rates of record breaking in various sports, control for rules and equipment changes, and use that to determine which sports have a bigger problem with performance-enhancing drugs.
But this would be hard to do because many sports change the rules constantly, and/or they allow technology to modify the game. Tennis today is nothing like the game it used to be, and that’s completely due to racket technology. Wayne Gretzky’s points records in hockey may never be broken because the game was much more wide-open back then, and now the rules are different.
Or a single outstanding athlete repeatedly breaking his own record by a marginal amount - this wouldn’t work in all sports but I believe pole vaulter Sergei Bubka did this so that he could repeatedly take home bonuses for breaking the world record at a given track meet. (Per his wikipedia page he set the world record 35 times in 10 1/2 years, and his records haven’t been broken in the 19 years since he set the last one).