Has Asafa Reached Terminal Velocity?

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Lost in the steroid scandal that is Marion Jones, Asafa Powell ran ANOTHER world record tying 9.77 second 100m dash. How is it that a 9.77 second 100m dash could receive such little fanfare? For goodness sakes we are talking about the fastest time EVER run in the most exciting event in track and field. How could this go so overlooked? Well, first we have the fact that Powell’s amazing run took place on a day where the headlines were stolen by Ms. Jones. More importantly though is the fact that Powell has been SO DARN GOOD this season that we are beginning to take for granted just how amazing his season has been. Powell’s season is the track equivalent of Tiger Woods’ string of four straight Majors. It is the equal of Michal Jordan every moment he touched the hard wood not wearing a Wizards uniform. These guys made the amazing look so easy, so commonplace, that it was easy to forget just how amazing they really were. Powell is doing the same thing this year.

Before this year, running sub 9.90 in a career would place you among the legends of the sport. Not anymore. With 2-3 meets left in the season, the Jamaican Powell has run under 10 seconds nine times, under 9.90 seconds five times, and under 9.80 seconds two times. In fact, Powell has been so fast so often this year that I have caught myself being mildly disappointed when he runs only 9.85. 

The question remains however if Powell has reached his limit. I mean what are the odds of running 9.77 seconds two times? What about three times? We’re talking about hundredths of a second here! Powell’s three 9.77 second performances are as unlikely as those couples you see on the Discovery Channel that have 5 sets of identical quadruplets. The guy has become so consistent I’ve invented a new word for the guy:

three·qual (thrē'kwəl)

verb

  1. Having the same quantity or value as two others.
  2. To equal three times.
    • Asafa Powell has threequaled the world record.

noun

  1. One that is exactly the same as two others.
    • A threequal is almost impossible.

In my opinion there can only be three possible explanations for Powell’s threequal:

  1. Powell has reached his potential. I think we can eliminate this option considering his youth and the many variables (wind, temperature, track hardness, competition, etc) that have an effect on a performance. Unlike Tim Montgomery’s infamous “world record” run, none of Powell’s 9.77s have come under perfect conditions. This alone should produce some variability in his results and indicates that at least one of the results should have been better.
  2. Asafa Powell is really a robot capable of producing any given performance on demand. As cool as this one sounds, I think we can eliminate it too. I mean Jamaica isn’t exactly known for being a world leader in technology; so creating a lifelike sprint-god android capable of reproducing world record setting times on command is probably out of the question.
  3. Figured out that a 9.76 second 100m dash will cause the human body to implode (or maybe explode…I don’t have all the details yet).

Out of the three options, the last one seems the most likely to me. What evidence do I have? Well when we look at the conditions of each race they are quite different (different competitors, different altitudes, different wind readings, etc.). With all else being equal, this alone makes a threequal statistically improbable if not impossible. That is, there is so much variability in the conditions of the race that we should expect to see some variability in the performances. What else do I have? Well when we look at the split times for his various 9.77 second races (only the first two are currently available) we see that his race distribution is very different yet he produced three exactly equal times. It’s as if he got to 80m and made the decision to kick it up just enough to reach the threshold of implosion or throttled it back before he imploded all over himself. My final piece of evidence is Justin Gatlin’s 9.77 second 100m race. Justin’s steroid bust or not, the fastest time ever run for a 100m foot race has been equaled four times (don’t ask me to come up with a word for that). Surely Asafa (or perhaps his coach or manager) realized that any payday from a Gatlin-Powell 100m showdown would be a moot point if one of them ran so fast that they imploded. As a result, they mutually decided to not run any faster than 9.77 seconds. What more proof do you need? I think I am right but only time will tell.

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Mike Young

Mike Young

Founder of ELITETRACK at Athletic Lab
Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting.
Mike Young

@mikeyoung

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