When Usain Bolt’s agent revealed that the Jamaican sprinter has never run a mile in his life, it triggered a hypothetical question: Can he still be the fastest man alive in a longer race?
A piece from the New Yorker kickstarted the debate.
Ricky Simms revealed to the magazine that Usain Bolt has never attempted to race at one mile.
— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) August 3, 2016
Apparently, the fastest time on record for a mile-long race belongs to Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj who clocked in at 3 minutes, 43 seconds and 13 hundredths of a second in 1999.
That’s roughly 16 miles per hour.
In contrast, the record-setting pace by Usain Bolt when he dominated the 100-meter dash was around 28 miles per hour.
Then there’s the fact that Usain Bolt is a physical specimen. At 6’5″ and 209 pounds, he out-lengths and outweighs Guerrouj by eight inches and 29 pounds, respectively.
The Telegraph ran a report about the legendary sprinter being the perfect size and weight at any sprinting race.
Quoting University of Wolverhampton Prof. Alan Neville, a biostatistician, tall and thin athletes like Usain Bolt are well adapted to sprinting because of their long strides. Their length also allows their body to dissipate heat better.
“Until the last few years, sprinters have been hugely bulky and extremely muscular, even their upper bodies,” he said. “Over the past ten years, however, that seems to have changed with leaner and more angular competitors becoming more successful.”
Short bursts are one thing, but it’s another to sustain that kind of speed for a mile.
The New Yorker estimated that the best Usain Bolt could do in an 800-meter race was two minutes and 10 seconds, 19.19 seconds for a 200-hundred meter race and 45.29 seconds at 400-meters. Compare those to the 9.58 seconds that he clocked at the Berlin Games in 2009, and it’s clear that he slows down the longer the race.
Long-distance running coach Robert Johnson doesn’t believe for a second that Bolt would still be the fastest man alive in a mile-long race.
In fact, he’s so confident about his belief that he’s willing to mortgage his “nonexistent house” to bet that Bolt couldn’t beat the record set by El Guerrouj.
“He’s a total fast-twitch-muscle-fiber guy,” he said. “To expect Bolt to be good at the mile simply because he is the world’s greatest sprinter would be like expecting a great 320-pound NFL. offensive lineman to be good at playing running back simply because he’s a great football player. It’s ludicrous.”
It’s fun to debate, but if one is to be realistic, the injuries and age of Usain Bolt would make it near impossible for him to still be the fastest man in a longer race. In fact, his status was even doubtful heading to the 2016 Rio Olympics following the hamstring injury that he suffered last month during the pre-Olympics qualifier.
Injury anxieties grow but Usain Bolt says “sport needs me to win”
— Express Sports (@IExpressSports) July 26, 2016
Fortunately for Bolt, his Rio Olympic hopes were kept alive due to a medical exemption made by Jamaica’s sports officials. No doubt, his pedigree as the fastest man alive factored into the decision to send him to Rio.
Also, the Jamaican sprinter is approaching 30, the age at which most sprinters start to decline. Usain Bolt nevertheless made it to the 2016 Rio Olympics as he touched down in the Brazil city on July 27.
For now, Usain Bolt won’t be addressing any hypothetical questions. The real question he has to answer will be whether he can defend his titles in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash. Bolt’s long-time rival, US sprinter Justin Gatlin, has already predicted that he will beat him to take gold in Rio.
[Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images]