“This would of been faster than 9.58 if he didn’t showboat”

“This 9.69 would have been an easy 9.52 if he ran to the line”

“What the hell lol he could’ve got under 9.60 if he continued till the end instead of celebrating 2 seconds early.”

Quotes above are taken from YouTube and it’s just a sample of the kind of comments you’ll undoubtedly run across if you ever happen upon a discussion about the race that made Usain Bolt famous. Of course I’m talking about the 100m final from the 2008 Beijing Olympics where Bolt started to celebrate his victory about 18 meters before crossing the line in a world record time of 9.69 seconds.

It’s frustrating to read those comments because a lot of people seem to grossly overestimate Bolt’s slowdown in the final meters of the race. They believe that it was the best race of his career and that he could have run even faster than his current world record of 9.58 that he set one year later at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.

And it’s just not true. The race in Beijing was at best just as good as the one in Berlin, but it 100% wasn’t a faster one.

The explanation is simple. We just have to look at the 10m split times from the race and compare it to the ones from Berlin.

splits CORRECT

We see that his splits are very similar and the ones from 50m to 90m are basically identical. The slower last 10 meters from Beijing are a result of his showboating and we can estimate that he could have probably covered it in 0.83 seconds if he had continued to run hard through the finish line.

So if we directly answer the question in the title:

Bolt could have run 9.62 seconds at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But let’s make a hypothetical claim and say that he could have maintained his top speed from 60 to 100 meters. If you know anything about sprinting, you’ll know that that’s pretty much impossible. Top speed is usually achieved somewhere between 45 and 65 meters and the athlete who wins is usually the one who decelerates the least in the last 40 meters or so. But just for the sake of it, what would the time be if he’d have run four consecutive 0.82 second 10m splits from 60 to 100m?

If we do a bit of math, we see that he would have run 9.60 seconds in that extremely optimistic and unrealistic case.

Still not faster than Berlin. 9.62 is the most realistic answer and I hope that we can end this discussion once and for all.

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