How fast is Usain Bolt?



Four years ago Usain Bolt from Jamaica was pretty much unknown, but since then he has become, arguably, the most famous athlete in the world. In 2010 I wrote an article attempting to predict how far he would jump in the long jump. The fame surrounding Bolt is so great that this article quickly became the most visited one on the whole blog! What has made him so famous? Probably the biggest reason for his fame is that he’s the fastest human on the planet. He is the world record holder in the 100 and 200 m sprint, and part of the 4 x 100 m world record relay team.

So, how fast is Usain Bolt?

Speed is the change in distance over time, so we can easily calculate Usain’s average speed in his various events. We just need to know the length of the event and the time it takes to complete the event:
Event Distance (m) Time (s) Average speed (m/s) Average speed (mph)
100 m sprint 100 9.58 10.44 23.35
200 m sprint 200 19.19 10.42 23.31

From the calculations it looks like Usain is only slightly faster over the 100 metres compared to the 200 metres. However the numbers above only indicate how fast Usain Bolt is on average from start to finish, it does not tell us his maximum speed.

Calculating Usain’s top speed is a little bit more difficult as we need to know his speed at every point throughout his run. Luckily at the 2009 Berlin World Championships where Usain set his current world record, detailed data was collected on his 100 metres race. Data showed that in the 100 metres Usain reached a top speed of 12.27 m/s at 65 metres which is 27.44 miles per hour!

How fast is Usain Bolt compared to other humans?

In the first graph below we can compare Usain’s current world record in 100 m to previous records. We’ll stick to using average speed (m/s) as our performance measure because it is the standard unit of measurement.


Usain set the last two world records in the 100 metres and increased the average speed from the world record set by his fellow country man Asafa Powell of 10.27 m/s to 10.44 m/s in just two years.


This graph shows why Usain Bolt is amazing; it is the margin of his new World records. In 2008 he increased the world record by an average speed of 0.05 m/s and then again in 2009 he increased his own record by 0.12 m/s. In other words Usain Bolt lowered the world record by 0.16 seconds or increased his winning margin over Asafa Powell by approximately 1.6 metres.

Usain Bolt is by far the fastest man on the planet at this moment in time but we cannot say for sure he is the fastest man on the planet ever. Will there be someone faster in the future? Who can say! We will also never know how fast humans were before the invention of stopwatches and recorded time. There is some compelling evidence which suggests that ancient aboriginals could have been faster than Usain Bolt, but we will never know for sure.

How fast is Usain Bolt compared to other land animals?


Sadly, Usain is only mediocre when his top running speed is compared to the animal kingdom, even beaten to his top speed by a domestic cat, albeit a fast one! This graph shows how remarkably fast some land animals run, the fastest of them all being the Cheetah clocked at 72 mph, even faster than the speed limit on our motorways!

Prediction for London 2012

All eyes will be on London’s Olympic Stadium the night of August 5th 2012 where the 100 metres final will take place, but how fast will Usain Bolt be if he is standing on the start line?

Bolt claims he will run it in 9.4 seconds (average speed of 10.64 m/s); that is another jaw dropping drop of 0.18 seconds from his current world record. But is this out of reach even for the reigning Olympic champ?  I think this may be the case. With a new starting rule enforced from January 2010 Bolt was disqualified from the 100 m final in last year’s world championships after false starting. This may subconsciously slow his Olympic start down, if he was aware that he may do it again. But who knows for sure, an injury-free season could mean anything is possible, especially for this Jamaican superstar! One thing’s for sure, I like millions of others will be glued to my TV set on the evening of August 5th hoping to see something special.

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