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How fast is Usain Bolt, really?

Abhishek Jain
21 Aug 2015, 17:11 IST
Lightning Bolt
Usain Bolt doing his trademark ‘Lightning Bolt’ celebration

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is often described as the fastest man to have ever lived. He holds all the relevant speed records in running and has shown no signs of slowing down. 

But how fast is Usain Bolt, really? How does he fare when compared with the fastest moving objects on earth?

In 2009, Bolt set the world record time at both the 100m sprint and 200m events, clocking 9.58 seconds and 19.19 seconds respectively at the Berlin World Championships. In 2012, he became the only athlete in Olympic history to do a double-double at the Summer Games, winning gold at both the 100m and 200m events in two consecutive Olympic Games (Beijing 2008 and London 2012).

Here is a breakdown of his speeds during his world record runs:

Event Time(s) Average Speed (m/s) Average speed (mph)
100m  9.58 10.44 23.35
200m 19.19 10.42 23.31

The above table shows Bolt’s average speed, but not his top speed, which is far tougher to measure. According to detailed data on his world record run, however, Bolt reportedly achieved a staggering top speed of 27.44 miles per hour (or 12.27 m/s) in Berlin. ‘Incredible’ would be a huge understatement here.

The average speeds of some of the world’s quickest animals, such as the cheetah, the American lion or the greyhound are far greater than that of Bolt’s. But you may be fascinated to know that his average speed is much greater than that of a squirrel or a mouse.

Graph showing Usain Bolt’s speed copmared to other moving beings (Image credit: Engineeringsport)

A bolt of lightning miles ahead of his peers

In 2008, Bolt improved the world record by 0.02 seconds when he clocked 9.72. He then shaved off another 0.03 seconds in Beijing, and a staggering 0.11 seconds during his 9.58-second run in 2009. So Bolt has reduced the world record time by 0.16 seconds in total, which is far, far more incredible than it sounds.

To put that number in perspective, it took all of the world’s runners as many as 16 years to shave 0.16 seconds off the world record before Bolt – from 1991 (Leroy Burrell, 9.90 seconds) to 2007 (Asafa Powell, 9.74 seconds). And Bolt did it all on his own, in the space of two years. Is he really from this planet?

Usain Bolt
A graphical representation of the progresion of the 100m world record (Image credit: Engineeringsport)

He has also been on three world-record-setting Jamaican relay teams. The first record, 37.10 seconds, was set while winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The second record of 37.04 seconds came at the 2011 World Championships, while the third was set at the 2012 London Olympics, with Bolt clocking a time of 36.84 seconds.

Relive the moment from the 2009 Berlin Championships where Bolt clocked a world record time of 9.58 seconds.

Bolt is easily the fastest man that been seen on earth since the invention of the stopwatch and modern clocking mechanisms. But can anyone beat his record in the future? Only time will tell.

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