How Usain Bolt Can Shave 0.13 Seconds Off His 100m Time (Using Math)

Illustration for article titled How Usain Bolt Can Shave 0.13 Seconds Off His 100m Time (Using Math)

Usain Bolt is a hero: he can run 100 meters in 9.58 seconds flat. But a mathematician thinks that—without any extra effort—he can shave another 0.13 seconds off his time. Here's how.

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John Barrow, a mathematician at the University of Cambridge, has been analyzing Bolt's running, and has found three factors that could help him save the time:

  • Reaction Time: Barrow points out that Bolt is cautious out of the blocks. In fact, when he set his record in Berlin in 2009, he was the second slowest starter off the line, taking 0.146 seconds to get moving compared with 0.119 seconds for the speediest starter. So, if Usain can put aside worries of a false start, and trim his reaction time to 0.13 seconds, he'd get his time down to 9.53 seconds.
  • Wind Assist: Bolt's current record was scored with a modest tail wind of just 0.9 meters per second. Barrow has calculated that if the maximum allowable tailwind occurred—which is 2 meters per second—he'd save a further 0.05 seconds taking his time down to 9.48 seconds.
  • Height Advantage: Finally, if he ran the race at 1,000 meter altitude—but no higher, otherwise his performance would drop—he should be able run faster due to lower wind resistance. That change could see him chop 0.03 second off his time, taking it down to an ridiculous 9.48 seconds.
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Sadly, this summer's Olympics in London take place at sea level, meaning that the final time-saver is out of the question for now. But if he can manage the first two, we could see him hit a time somewhere around 9.5 second. And that is truly lightning fast. [Significance via New Scientist]

Image by AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle

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DISCUSSION

Not knocking the man's achievement or ability at all, but I have a hard time seeing how he's a hero. How hard he must've trained to get where he is is mighty inspirational, but hero is still a strong word. If you throw a red, tight jumpsuit on him you can say he's The Flash and kinda say superhero, but even then, as far as I know, he hasn't saved any lives with his speed. I just think the word is used kind of casually sometimes.