With the nation still ‘gobsmacked’ (but not as much as Michael Johnson) from Usain Bolt smashing both the 100m and 200m records at the World Championships, in this week’s Figure It Out we take a look at world records in athletics and also take a light-hearted look at how fast Usain Bolt is. Firstly, do athletes in the flagship 100m and 1500m men’s events rise to the big occasion? Introduced in 1983, the World Athletics championships have seen 5 world records in the 100m but no world records in the 1500m. As for the Olympics, 5 of the 70 world record times for the 100m and 5 of the 33 world record times for the 1500m have been achieved in Olympic Games races. So does the ‘roar of the crowds’ and the increased competition at an Olympics and World Championships help athletes to break world record? Probably, but it is more likely than other factors such as track conditions and altitude have more of a bearing on breaking a world record. Since Don Lippincott ran 10.6 seconds for the 100m in 1912 to become the 1st world record holder, prior to the early 1980’s the record was broken on average every 8.9 years compared to an average of 1.7 years after. In the 1500m, pre 1940 the world record was broken on average every 2.5 years, but has been broken on average every 2.2 years from 1950 until the current record was set in 1998. Performing regression analysis, we are able to understand the trend of 100m and 1500 world records times and hence are able to forecast what the next records will be. So will we see new world records for the 100m and 1500m in London in 2012? That is anyone’s guess, but using the results from this analysis I myself will be putting the following bets on:
*Terms and Conditions: Bets for both events will only be made if not broken prior to 2012, no rain is forecasted (no roof to cover the track), with the 100m bet only to be made if Usain Bolt is fit. Inspired by South African rugby player Brian Habana’s draw against a cheetah (well he did have a 30m head start) over 100m, we ask could Usain Bolt beat a cheetah with no head start? If not what animals could he beat? Averaging 38km/h during his world record, Bolt is unquestionably fast, but his speed is far slower than that of a cheetah, a lion and a grizzly bear, but faster than a spiny tailed iguana. Based purely on speed it seems that Bolt would finish 9th in a 100m race with the animals above. However, under true 100m racing conditions my money is on Bolt. The grizzly bear and the rest of the animals are likely to find starting with their feet on the pedals extremely difficult and will be prone to making false starts – due to their failure to understand the commands “get on your marks”, “get set” and “go”.