06 August 2012

Dr Ross Tucker on Bolt's win

Usain Bolt defended his 100m title in emphatic fashion, in a time of 9.63s this weekend. Dr Ross Tucker comments on the men's 100m.


Usain Bolt defended his 100m title in emphatic fashion at the 2012 Olympics, in a time of 9.63s, ahead of Yohan Blake (9.75s) and Justin Gatlin (9.79s) at the 2012 Olympics this weekend. Dr Ross Tucker comments on the men's 100m:

Bolt's second half was dominant

I hope someone will produce a statistical analysis of the race, with 10m interval speeds, as was done for the 2009 WR, because the structure of Bolt's race would make a fascinating comparison.  He was trailing over the first 30m in London, and so I'd love to compare this Olympic race to that WR from 40m onwards.  

Was his first phase tonight slower than 2009, or were Gatlin and Blake better than the 2009 field?  Remember, when he set the WR in Berlin, Bolt actually reached 20m first. His start and drive phase were pretty good then.

This time, he was behind, but good enough to put himself in a position to capitalise, which he did emphatically.  His reaction time, incidentally (since I know this will come up) was 0.165s, which was faster than both Blake (0.179s) and Gatlin (0.178s).  But this is only a small part of the start - how you react is followed by how you drive from the blocks, and that's where Bolt has been found out before - he needs to get those long legs out of the way first.

Once that happens, he's unmatchable.  There was a moment where Gatlin was holding Bolt off, but from that crucial 50 m mark, where most men begin to hit top speed before slowing down, Bolt just has so much more than everyone else.  He moved past Gatlin and Blake so powerfully, and those numbers would be very interesting to see.  Top speed and best 10m interval comparisons would be revealing.

Missing the world record by 0.05s suggests that it might not have been quite up to the top-end speeds we saw in 2009, but if the start was worse, it'll be close.  

I'm surprised at the margin of victory

The 0.12s is a big win in a final that was so split before it happened - look at the spread on predictions, it was so evenly divided between Bolt and Blake that a win that size surprised me.  

In Beijing, the margin was larger, of course, but Blake threatened to make this closer than it ultimately was.  Blake's 9.75s matched his performance from the Jamaican trials, and with the peak of the Olympic Games, plus all the talk of a fast track, plus the fact that the wind was a pretty decent 1.5  m/s tailwind, he might have expected to go a little faster than he did then.  Admittedly, it was cooler, which is not ideal for fast times, but I'm surprised Blake didn't go a little closer.

Nevertheless, he confirmed his standing as the challenger to Bolt, and the 200m event later this week should be another fabulous race.

A world record would have been a huge surprise

If you think about it, we hadn't seen a sub-9.70s clocking since 2009 and the Bolt world record in Berlin.  Prior to 2008, the best performances were in the mid-9.70s, and occasionally, a performance in the low 9.70s would light up the world of track and field.  When it did, it was usually a world record, like Powell's 9.74s, or Bolt's 9.72s in 2008.

Then came Beijing - 9.69s with a celebration.  Then followed Berlin - 9.58s.  We were taken into an era where track fans were eagerly looking forward to the fall of the 9.50s barrier.  Then, almost as quickly as it arrived, that era seemed to depart.  Since then, 9.75s has been the standard once again, and the world leader is a low 9.7-something.

And so going into these Olympic Games, the prospect of jumping from 9.75s all the way to a sub-9.60s was just beyond belief.  No track surface or reasonable following wind was going to allow it.  The times this year, from the big four (Gay included in the list) have frequently been around 9.80s, but never faster than the 9.72s that Bolt carried into Beijing four years ago.

Therefore, it seemed reasonable to assume that even if Bolt (or someone else) peaked for the Games, and produced the same kind of spectacular performance we saw in Beijing, he'd run somewhere in the mid-9.6s.  That Beijing performance, incidentally, was slowed by his celebrations, but we worked out at the time that he probably would have run around 9.64s - 9.65s had he not begun his dance while at the 80m mark of the race.

That was the basis for my prediction of a 9.68s winning time ahead of the final (over on Twitter).  I didn't think Bolt would quite be in his Beijing form, which would have put him at 9.61 to 9.65s.  As it turned out, he was, and ran 9.63s.  But a prediction of 9.5-something, or even faster than that, was the result of being "spoiled" by 2008 and 2009 - we are back on the constant improvement curve now, and this performance is probably exactly where the "normal" would be.  Not that anything about Bolt is normal, of course.

Interesting statistics

Another stat that always seems to come up is number of steps taken.  I'm not sure you can read too much into this, because you need to know contact times, contact lengths, and force applied to the ground, but here are the numbers for those who are interested:

  • Bolt - took 41 steps 
  • Blake - took 46 steps
  • Gatlin - took 42.5 steps

All that really means is that Bolt has longer strides.  Looking at the height of the three men, you'd have predicted this, but people enjoy that stat.

Catch all the latest Olympic event reviews on Dr Tucker's blog here.

Dr Ross Tucker, is Health24’s FitnessDoc and has a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Cape Town and a Post-Graduate degree in Sports Management from the UCT's Faculty of Commerce. He is currently employed at the University of Cape Town and Sports Science Institute of South Africa, and works as a consultant to various sporting teams, including South African Sevens, Canoeing, Rowing and Triathlon SA. He also blogs on

(Health24, August 2012)

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