Examining Usain Bolt’s 150 meter World Record


So this past weekend, Usain Bolt casually ran what may very well be one of the more impressive races in the history of track and field (if you can call a 150m race down a street track and field). His 150m time on the rain-soaked temporary track in Manchester, England was out of this world. 14.35 seconds. That sounds like a pretty good 110 meter high hurdle time. Or maybe even a bad high school 100m time. It certainly doesn’t sound like a time someone should be running for 150m. To put that time in to perspective, former 200m world record holder Pietro Menea ran 14.80 over the distance in 1983. At the time he did that the world records for the 100m and 200m were 9.93 (Calvin Smith) and 19.72 (by Menea himself in ’72) respectively. More recently, World and Olympic Champion Donovan Bailey ran 14.99 seconds for the same distance not too long after setting the 100m world record and winning Olympic Gold 13 years ago. When Bailey ran that time (which, to be fair, was run with 75m on the curve) the world records for the 100m and 200m were 9.84 (by Bailey from one year earlier) and 19.32 (by his match race opponent Michael Johnson) respectively. Furthermore, Bolt’s winning time in Manchester was 4.8% faster than the next competitor. For comparison’s sake, his margin of victory in Beijing (albeit over better fields) was ONLY 2.1% and 2.7% for the 100m and 200m respectively. Bolt now owns the world record at 100m, 150m, 200m, and 4x100m. What’s more staggering is JUST HOW DOMINANT he is over all of his competitors. From a statistical standpoint, to have one man be 3-5% better at a highly contested task when the participant pool (those people who have ever run competitively at any distance) for said activity numbers in the 100s of millions is just mind boggling and defies all logic. Indeed, the man Bolt destroyed, Britain’s Marlon Devonish, admitted that Bolt was in a league of his own. With such a disparity between numero uno and the rest, it actually begs the question if there is only one elite sprinter in the world and the rest are just a bunch of other guys ‘filling the field.’

Perhaps a more intriguing question though is what this time indicates for Bolt’s 2009 campaign. To be honest, I actually wasn’t expecting the fireworks we saw in 2008 from Mr. Bolt. He’s admittedly had too many distractions and training disruptions and less than 2 weeks prior to his 150m run he got in to a car accident that wrecked his brand new car and required his coach to halt all training. I expected the guy to be in the 9.7x / 19.5x range this season with all the post-Olympic distractions. The 14.35 indicates otherwise. In his Manchester run, he went through 100m in 9.90 seconds. In his 200m world record from Beijing, he went through the 100m mark in 9.96 seconds. In the previous 200m world record, Michael Johnson went through the half way point in 10.11 seconds. When you factor in that his Beijing split was on a curve as opposed to the straightaway at Manchester, I think it’s safe to say his first 100m in Beijing was intrinsically better. That said, I think his 50-150 time in Manchester was light years better than what he did in Beijing. Although I have yet to see official splits on Bolt’s Beijing 200m race, I think it’s safe to say that he probably went through the 150m mark in about 14.60-14.62. Michael Johnson was slightly slower at the same point in his world record (14.57 through 146m). That means by the 150m mark Bolt was a full quarter second ahead of 200m world record pace. Given the terrible start he had (he seemed to stumble) and the amazing display he put on between 50m and 150m in Manchester (a flying 100m split of 8.72 compared MJ’s 8.81 from his Atlanta WR), I’d say he could probably have continued going for 200m and run under 19.15. Add a curve (plus ~ 0.12 seconds), some competition (minus ~ 0.05), and better weather conditions (minus ~ 0.08) and Bolt might very well be capable of breaking his 200m world record RIGHT NOW.

Check out this video and decide for yourself: