The 100m Olympic event (won by the amazing Usain Bolt) is billed as the event to determine the Fastest man on the planet.  And sure looking at Bolt turn on the turbo boost a few seconds into the race, it is obvious why he is so. It truly felt exhilarating to watch the acceleration! His timing, a new world record of 9.69 is indeed phenomenal – looks and feels like the fastest 100m a human has run in competition.

I also enjoyed his 200m blast clocking at 19.30 seconds beating Michael Johnson‘s record of 19.32, which many thought was going to remain unsurpassed for a long time. 

The 4x100m relay performance by Jamaica propelled by Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell was another gem, with another world record time of 37.10 seconds.

But then I did some simple math, and I am confused.

The world record of 9.69 that that Bolt set is indeed fast, stunningly fast. Even knowledgeable observers of the sport say so, and to an lay observer, it is (and looked) unimaginably fast.

However,  he ran 200m in 19.30. That is an average of 9.65 seconds per 100m!  In fact, Michael Johnson’s previous 19.32, gives an average of 9.66, which is much better than the earlier 100m record 9.72. So that fast average of 9.66 was established twelve years ago in 1996!

So what is going on here?

I really am not sure. One explanation I can think of is that sprinters do not hit their top speeds until well into the 100m. And when running 200m, they are probably able to hold on to that speed for the rest of  the way. So the second 100m of a 200m is fast – real fast. So if we want to look at the fastest man on planet, perhaps we should look at 200m record holder rather than 100m record holder? So why even pump up the importance of 100m so much? Is it true that the true indicator of human speed is in the longer 200m?

But wait! The 4x100m relay is 400m run by 4 people in 37.10 seconds. That averages to just 9.275 seconds per 100m!  It looks like that except for the first leg, the sprinters accelerate before getting the baton – I am assuming this is before they hit the start of their 100m legs. So perhaps all 400m were run in entirety at close-to or full top-speed unlike the 100m or 200m where the initial acceleration from full stop is part of the race.

But then I read this:  Bolt ran his leg at 9.96 seconds. So he wasn’t near his best and so others probably did better – certain Asafa Powell.  But so much so that the overall average drops to 9.275? I am lost!

I must be missing something. And I expect to realize this in an embarrassing way soon 🙂 !!