Thursday, August 20, 2009

Comparing Usain Bolt's 100 meter and 200 meter World Records

Usain Bolt continues to amaze us with every race he runs. In destroying his own 200 meter world record from the Olympics, he has now set 5 world records in five Olympic or World Championship event finals in a row.

Watch video of the 200 meter race from the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Championships below. The final recorded time and the new record stands at 19.19 seconds, an incredible 0.11 seconds faster than his previous world record.

The 200 meter sprint record is usually a faster time than if you had to double the 100 meter record. This can be seen if we compare the more recent (since the use of electronic timers) progression of world records between the 2 events. As an example, when Donovan Baily held the world 100m record of 9.84 in 1996, the 200m record was held by Michael Johnson at 19.32 secs. This 200m time is faster than double the 100m record at the time.

In both the 100 and 200 meter races, the athletes start from the blocks and it usually takes them around 60 meters or more to reach maximum speed. In fact we saw from analysis of Usain Bolts 100m world record that he reached top speed at 65 meters in that race. Now in the 100m, the athletes maintain that speed for 40 or so more meters, while in the 200m they have 140m more to go and therefore maintain their top speed for longer. In fact the 200m race often has negative splits for the top athletes, meaning that they run the second 100 meters faster than the first 100 meters.

It is therefore interesting to note that if we double Usain Bolts 100m time (9.58) we get 19.16 secs, which in this case is faster than his new 200m world record of 19.19 secs. I am not trying to make the case that this 200 meter world record is not extraordinary, but why is this the case?
Watching the 200m race, he seems to be straining at the end, by this stage of the race his muscles must be burning, as he tries to maintain his maximum speed. He also said in an interview after the race that he felt tired and well he should after running all the 100m and 200m heats and finals. It is possible that this fatigue meant he could not run the 200m as fast as he possibly can. Seldom has the 100m and 200m world records been held by the same athlete or even broken by the same athlete at the same event and so this may be a factor in his 200m time.

Examining the splits and his maximum velocity to compare his 200m to his 100m world records, will give us more insight into what we can expect from Bolt in the future. From this past records history we can speculate that his 200m record is going to be smashed again soon and the 19.0 second barrier is not out of the question.

It is fantastic watching such an incredible athlete run and we hope to learn as much as possible about his biomechanics by watching and analyzing the video footage.

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