21 August 2008

Bolt: the world's fastest man

The debate is over: Bolt is the fastest man in the world, ever. FitnessDoc tries to answer the only question left - which performance was more spectacular?

Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world. Ever. No question. The debate around whether the 100m or 200m record holder is the fastest man on the planet is now irrelevant, because they're the same person. The only question now, is which performance was more spectacular? FitnessDoc unpacks Bolt's Olympic feats.

Bolt shocked the world on Saturday, when he ripped a 9.69 second time to claim the 100m Olympic title. It was not so much the win, he was the world record holder, after all, as the manner of the victory that was spectacular, because he started celebrating over the line, costing himself perhaps 0.05 seconds. It could have been more, maybe less, I would guess a time of 9.64 seconds was probable.

Last night, there were no premature celebrations, just the fastest 200m race in history. He got off to a good start and ran an impressive bend, building a lead of around 3m by the time he entered the straight. And then he got into his running.

He opened the lead up, leaving behind the American challenger and Churandy Martina of the Netherlands Antilles as he pushed on to finish in an incredible 19.30 seconds.

Second went to Martina (after his 4th in the 100m race), 0.5 seconds back, while Wallace Spearmon finished third - but was then disqualified for running out of his lane - and so the bronze went to defending champion, Shawn Crawford of the USA.

There was then late drama as Martina was also disqualified (following an appeal by the USA) for running out of his lane, which meant that Crawford got silver (having finished 4th) and Walter Dix got bronze. This was sad for Martina, because 4th in the 100m must have been tough to take, but this result must have been devastating.

But make no mistake, this was all about Bolt.

Ever the entertainer, he left the celebrations for after the race and clearly focused and working hard to crack that world record. He even dipped at the line, which probably gave him the record outright. In so doing, he becomes the first man to hold both 100m and 200m world records since electronic timing began.

Don Quarrie, another Jamaican, was the last person to do this, but did it when timing was a mix of hand and electronic.

Basic race analysis, with more to follow
It's so early that we don't have much in the way of analysis yet, but I can tell you that Bolt took 42 steps in the first 100m, and 38 in the second 100m. That compares to his 41 steps to win the 100m title on Saturday.

So his bend, where the step length is often shorter thanks to the turn, was actually not compromised much - the split times will reveal an interesting story about this first half. If I had to guess, I would say that he did a faster first half than Michael Johnson in 1996.

Comparison with Johnson?
You may recall that when Johnson broke the record, he did the first 100m in 10.12, and the second 100m in 9.2 seconds. I suspect that Bolt's first 100m will be under 10 seconds, given the similarity in stride length compared to Saturday's 100m final.

His second 100m will obviously also be under 10 seconds, but not 9.2 seconds like Johnson's. Again, this is a guess, but I'd say it's likely that Bolt did around 9.90 and then 9.40 seconds. All we need now are the split times to either prove or disprove that.

A headwind - is there room for improvement?
Perhaps most remarkable of all, he did it into a slight headwind - 0.9m/s. That means, dare I say it, that we can look forward to another Bolt world record in the future, as he likely has a tiny amount more in the bank.

For now though, Bolt is the man of the Games, along with Michael Phelps. He has electrified the world of track and field and is suddenly the biggest name in the sport.

His agent's phone, still ringing from the 100m race, will now be ringing off the hook in the weeks to come as everyone will want a piece of Bolt.

It's amazing to consider how meteoric his rise has been. Who would have believed, just four months ago, that by August, we'd be referring to a dual world record holder for the 100m and 200m?

Michael Johnson's 200m world record was regarded as "indestructible", and few would have picked Bolt to break the 100m record. Yet he's done both, with panache and style, and Jamaicans are the kings of the track after also winning the only other gold on offer the same night - the women's 400m hurdles.

(Health24's FitnessDoc, Dr Ross Tucker, August 2008. Dr Tucker also blogs on


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