One-hundredth of a second can be a lot of time.
A good-quality camera flash can fire in 1/1000th of a second. It takes only 3/100ths of one second to blink, and a gun's bullet primer requires just 1/500th of a second to ignite gunpowder.
But for Serbian Olympic swimmer Milorad Cavic, 1/100th of a second will last a lifetime.
During the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Cavic lost the 100-meter men's butterfly to American swimming sensation Michael Phelps by 1/100th of a second.
The fraction of a single tick on the clock meant Cavic had to settle for a silver medal, rather than Olympic gold. Conversely, for his less-than-a-hair-thin victory, Phelps garnered acclaim and a treasure trove of lucrative endorsement deals.
The finish made some elite athletes pause. Hoping to avoid a fate similar to Cavic's, they began looking around for something that could maximize their full potential, someone who could guarantee their performance would not lag behind by any fraction of a second.
Enter JohnEric Smith.
A sports physiologist with years of experience making other people sweat, Smith runs the aptly named human performance laboratory at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, within Bradenton's IMG Academy.
There, Smith tests the absolute limits of human endurance and provides athletes with invaluable feedback about how they can improve their skills, their training or their nutrition.
"In athletics, the difference between good and great is small," Smith said. "I have never found an athlete that didn't have an area they could improve upon. It's important. The difference between a gold medal and silver is millions of dollars in branding."
Smith's lab opened in October 2011, and since then, he has funneled nearly 300 athletes through the it, including several elite athletes he cannot name -- even though he acts like he is dying to do so -- because of federal privacy rules.
As the lab's principal scientist, Smith has built the place from the ground up.
"I was asked to design the lab with any piece of equipment I wanted, with no limitation," he said, gesturing broadly at a collection of chrome, plastic and steel apparatuses.
"Not only did I get every piece of equipment I wanted, I got the very best."
The equipment does not just look state-of-the-art, it is ultra functional, too. To determine an athlete's potential maximum effort, Smith has his subjects negotiate a circuit consisting of more than a dozen serious-looking machines and stations. Taken together, they measure every aspect of performance.
For a mild-mannered, wonky scientist type, Smith also is fairly unapologetic about pushing athletes past their lactate thresholds and other extremes of human performance.
He uses the phrase "maximal effort" a lot.
It is not hard to tell when an NBA player or a hot-shot NFL star is working out in Smith's lab, either: The drapes are drawn and the entire building is locked down. Privacy -- some might say secrecy -- is guaranteed, something Gatorade seems to take seriously.
IMG, however, gushes about the lab's presence on its campus.
"The Gatorade Sports Science Institute provides our athletes access to cutting-edge technology and scientific findings to help them perform better," said Odis Lloyd, IMG's vice president of business development.
"On a broader note, IMG Academy is focused on developing strategic relationships -- like those of Gatorade and Under Armour -- with performance leaders who can offer our athletes the most innovative products and training available," Lloyd added.
IMG, perhaps the largest and among the most advanced multi-sport training complexes in the world, has good reason to feel as it does. It maintains a mutually beneficial relationship with the lab.
For its part, it gets a world-class facility available to help fine-tune its slate of world-class athletes.
Smith, meanwhile, gets a large pool of test subjects for his lab, plus elite walk-ins from the NBA, the NFL as well as Olympic hopefuls.
Gatorade gets the lab data, which it, most likely, can use in creating its next line of sports drinks. Most likely, however, is the operative phrase, because officials from Gatorade -- which was born at the University of Florida in the mid-1960s and is now a subsidiary of cola giant PepsiCo -- did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
A six-hour ordeal
Smith puts the athletes who show up to be tested through a six-hour ordeal that starts deceptively slowly, with a series of measurements. The athletes are weighed. Their height is recorded. Their body composition -- fat versus muscle versus bone -- is measured using a dual X-ray absorptiometry machine, which was originally developed for diagnosing osteoporosis.
From there, the athletes' fat tissue versus lean muscle mass ratio is calculated further, by checking the air displacement in a Body Pod. That is a sci-fi looking device the athlete climbs into where bioelectrical impedance is gauged by having electrical current pass through their bodies via two handgrips.
"Fat doesn't like water," Smith explains, while holding the metal handgrips attached to electrical cords.
After drawing a blood sample, the athlete is led to a modified treadmill. One modification from the standard model is the inclusion of a face mask that looks like ones prescribed for sleep apnea. The device monitors the athlete's oxygen and carbon dioxide levels as the treadmill's pace and elevation are increased.
What starts as a walk ends in an uphill sprint. To prevent injuries, athletes wear safety harnesses attached to an automatic shut off switch.
"We want maximal effort," Smith said. "They go until they can't go anymore, and then they either jump off to the side or collapse and the harness grabs 'em."
Most football players last about 15 minutes. An elite triathlete, Smith said, once endured more than 40 minutes.
The athletes who survive the treadmill test get a break, long enough for Smith to take a second blood sample, which is compared against the first to evaluate changes from extreme exercise. He then has them complete a questionnaire that delves into their training, nutrition and sleep habits.
"All three have a big influence on their ability," he said. "At this point they've had nothing but water for around 10 hours, so they get a sports drink or a nutrition shake."
He does not mention a brand name.
Next up, Smith has the athletes work on two machines that are so new and so state-of-the-art that they lack established test data or peer-reviews.
The Dynavision machine resembles a Star Wars version of the whack-a-mole arcade game. It is mounted on the lab wall like a dart board. To succeed, the athlete has to slap and extinguish various lights that pop up in random order, while verbalizing numbers that appear in the middle of the screen.
Unlike some of the more physical machines, it is designed to test cognitive function.
"Like for a quarterback, the lights are the linemen. The number is the play and the receivers," Smith said.
The I-Span machine looks like a small goal post. It, too, has colored disks that light up until touched.
To master the I-Span, athletes start behind a line several yards away, run at the machine, hit the appropriate lights, then sprint back to the line. The process repeats several times. Muscle-strength testing follows. Smith checks grip, arm and leg strength. The data will become a valuable baseline when an athlete gets hurt.
"The risk of injury in sports is great," Smith said. "At some point, every athlete will become injured. This baseline can be used to establish their pre-injury level, which will aid in their recovery."
Every athlete who has undergone Smith's circuit has told him the final test is also the hardest. He has them ride a stationary bicycle for 30 seconds -- all out.
"I tell them I want maximal effort, like they're running the 40," he said, comparing the cycling to a dash.
For elite athletes and pros, Smith's data becomes available the day of the testing. Student athletes have to wait a day to receive results. Smith contends the tests result in a win-win scenario. "They learn how to make changes to improve their performance," he said. "What we are learning will allow us to create a better product."