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Monday, May 18, 2009

Sports News snippets

Bolt breaks the 150m world record, Nadal loses on clay

A short post today on some sports news from the weekend.

First, and perhaps most exciting, Usain Bolt, he of three world records in Beijing, the fastest man in the world, has added the 150m world record to his 100m and 200m world records, by blasting a 14.35 secs in a specially organized street race in Manchester yesterday.

For those who did NOT see the race, here is a video of Bolt destroying the field by 0.7 seconds (note the graphic at the end of the race says 14.36s - it was rounded down to 14.35s)

Despite cool temperatures, and a reported lack of fitness thanks to a few minor injuries sustained in a car-crash about a month ago, Bolt's first big showing on the world stage in 2009 lived up to the hype (Bolt's love of speed extends beyond the track, apparently. The Jamaican taxi drivers are reported to have a nickname for him - "lead-foot").

The 150m dissected - splits and projections

Bolt's running is anything but lead-footed. He ran the first 100m in 9.90 seconds, which is an extra-ordinary time and a sign of things to come. But even more amazing, the final 100m (from 50m to the finish line) were clocked in an astonishing 8.72 seconds! That is being reported, though it's so fast I'm almost sceptical. The splits, as recorded during the race, were:

  • 50m - 5.64s (this compares to 5.50s in Beijing, by the way)
  • 100m - 9.90s (a split of 4.26 s. In Beijing last year, Bolt's last 50m of his 100m was 4.19s, including the infamous celebrations)
  • 150 - 14.35s (split of 4.45 s)

I have tried hard to find the analysis we did on Usain Bolt's 200m win in Beijing, because I am almost certain we looked at his splits from that race, but unfortunately I can't seem to find the post in question. However, I'm pretty sure his last 100m was not as quick as 8.72 seconds (it would mean his first 100m took 10.58 seconds, which is much too slow). But the last 100m can be misleading because of the different race distances, and so to me, the first 100m in 9.90 secs is more intriguing, because few others have produced that form so early in the season.

Bolt has said he can take the record down to 9.4 seconds - it's not exactly unusual for guys (especially sprinters) to make predictions about themselves (every sprinter worth his salt knocks a tenth of his time in order to hype himself up), but Bolt certainly has a lot to live up to, with hype and attention that has rarely been given to a track and field athlete.

Comparing races - what can be read into the 150m WR? Is Bolt already in WR shape for the 200m?

Much will no doubt be made of Bolt's time and what it means. The 8.72s is spectacular, for sure, but I believe the more telling stats are the 9.90 for the 100m, and also that second 50m interval at 4.26seconds, which is slightly slower than in his 100m final in Beijing (where he celebrated to lose time). Both splits are incredibly fast, but neither is quite up to the heights he reached in Beijing.

Therefore, when fellow athletes say he is already in 19.30 s shape in May, I believe they are incorrect, or getting carried away. Bolt is in awesome shape, yes, but he is 0.2 seconds/100m off the form he had in Beijing, so one should not become too eager to project times of sub-19 for the 200m just yet!

Also, it's not quite the same comparing this 150m race to a normal 200m race - distance counts a great deal at this speed - adding 33% to the race distance impacts on how it is paced. Also, bear in mind that this 150m time was achieved on a straight, without the hindrance of the bend, so any translation UP to 200m is slightly flawed (apart from the obvious distance increase). Finally, I must confess that I'm not 100% convinced about the track surface - remember this track was set up in the city especially for the race and I can't vouch for how it compares to a standard tartan track.

All these factors impact on the performance, and so I would caution against getting too carried away with the actual time in a rarely run event. However, Bolt is clearly carrying some awesome form into the season, and it augurs well for what might be a spectacular season.

So Bolt is back, his off-season antics and growing status as a off-track superstar clearly not slowing him down too much. Whatever your opinion of Bolt - his partying, his celebrations prior to finishing Olympic finals, his general approach to the sport - there is no doubt that he is very, very good for track and field. It has been a long time, perhaps never, that we've had an athlete who is able to garner so much attention OUTSIDE the sport's enthusiasts. Bolt transcends the sport, he is its biggest promotional tool, and hopefully, his on track form can continue to support his off-track persona!

Now, we just need Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay to step forward and turn this one-man entertainment vehicle into a great sporting rivalry, and then athletics will be the winner!

Nadal on clay - a rare defeat

Speaking of great rivalries, Roger Federer managed to turn around a losing streak of note against his great rival, Rafael Nadal, by winning the Madrid Masters Series event. For Federer to beat Nadal is rare enough - he'd lost their previous five finals. But to do so on clay is an enormous achievement for him.

However, before fans start to claim that the tide has turned and that Federer has regained his status as the man to beat, it must be pointed out that the last time Nadal lost a final on clay, it was to Federer, in Hamburg, and only a few weeks later, he went on to beat Federer in the final of the French Open. I suspect that the same may happen this year, only I'm not even sure that Federer will be the man to be beaten in that final.

I'd say the big favourite for the French Open remains Nadal - he's been beaten once all year on clay, but has played more matches than any other player. He played every single match of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Madrid, and in the end, was a victim of his own schedule. Many are pointing to the epic semi-final he played against Djokovic on Saturday as the reason for the loss, but I think it can be traced to the whole season, not just one match.

Nadal looked tired, sluggish, and lacking his usual sharpness. He made more errors in each of his last four matches than he has made in some tournaments in the past, and generally was well below his best. I'd put him at about 70%. And in the last three matches in Madrid, he was, to be blunt, poor (by his standards). He plays too often, given his game, and if he wants to be around and winning two Grand Slams a year in five years' time, I think he'd be wise to curtail his other tournament appearances.

I think a week off, then the itinerary of matches in Paris, with a day off between matches, will see him much more difficult to beat, and I think he'll win the French Open comfortably.

The second favourite is not Federer, but Novak Djokovic, who I think would beat Federer 7 times out of 10 on clay. Second to Nadal twice this year, I think Djokovic is the form player, playing even better than Nadal (it's just that Nadal off form on clay still beats everyone on form). Then the third favourite, jointly, would be Verdasco and Federer. In fact, I'd even give it to Verdasco, because he is a left-hander and his natural top-spin forehand plays on the Federer-single-handed backhand.

So in my opinion, the battle for Paris will be fought between Nadal, Djokovic and Verdasco. Obviously, the draw makes a huge impact, because if Federer ends up on the same side of the draw as Djokovic and Verdasco, then there's very little chance he'll win it. If it's Nadal, then maybe, just maybe, they'll push the Spaniard hard enough that he finds Federer a challenge. I doubt it though...

That's it for today, just a news-type post, some opinion. Hope you enjoyed the video of Bolt, and we'll see how it sets up the rest of his season.



Anonymous said...

Hi guys,
I have very recently started blogging primarily to help students on modules that I teach at undergraduate level (I refer our students to your site via our VLE). Do you have any advice on fair use in terms of copyright for using figures, diagrams etc from published academic articles? e.g. can pdf screengrabs be used or should all the figures be redone using excel etc?
David Archer
University of Sunderland,

David Archer said...

I was also looking at Bolt's performance last night and was very surprised by how well he ran. Second place, Marlon Devonish said that he thought that Bolt could have run 19.30s for 200m if he had continued. When I looked at his splits I would not have been surprised if it could even possibly be quicker. According to my calculations (which may be wrong?), if his deceleration from 100-150m coninued at the same rate from 150-200m (a big if!) 4.55 for his final 50m would result in an unfeasibly fast 200m time of 18.9s (albeit on a straight course).
Anyone have any ideas about how much deceleration might be evident over that final theoretical 50m.
David Archer

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi David

Thanks for the emails.

To comment on your second post, I'd be very cautious about extrapolating forward like Marlon did.

I made the point in the post that a few things change it. One is that the addition of 50m extra makes quite a big difference - it's 33% added on, and that changes the whole pacing strategy. One may think that 100m, 150m, and 200m are all just flat out sprints, but there is some pacing (it may be 'unconscious pacing', by the way).

So the added distance makes it very difficult to project upwards.

but more than this, i think the fact that it is straight, plus the fact that the surface is not the same as a regular tartan track made this time a little 'inflated', if you will.

If he'd continued, I'd guess (and it is a guess) that he'd slow down more than he did between 100m and 150m. So given that he ran a 4.26s and then 4.45s, I'd say the last 50m would be run in at least 4.75s (or slower). That would give a 19.10.

The bend makes a big difference - you can add on at least 0.4secs seconds for that, I'd think. Then I don't know what the wind was like - maybe a tailwind for the full 150m which is also unrealistic.

The big question is around the surface. Track surfaces make a big difference and running on tar (it seemed like they'd laid a mat down on tar, i don't know what the track was like in Manchester) would be pretty quick.

But overall, i think one should not project too much based on this time. It's incredibly fast, and it's a sign he is in great shape, but I don't think it tells us much about his form now. The more telling stat is that second 50m - 4.26, which is compared to 4.19s in his Beijing final.

That suggests he is not quite up to the same level (bearing in mind he probably could have run 4.14s in beijing without his celebration). So I disagree with Devonish. He's very good right now, but not quite that good. Later in the season, who knows?

Thanks again!

David Archer said...

Thanks again for your prompt reply Ross. Your blog is an excellent resource. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...


Carl Markham - PA Sport - and Mark Butler for the IAAF


100m wind: 0.1; 150m wind: 1.1
1, Usain Bolt JAM 14.35 (50m: 5.65/100m: 9.91/'flying' last
100m: 8.70) World Best

[suggesting allowed tail wind]

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

Thanks for the figures, I was wondering about those numbers. The interesting thing is that this was a tailwind all the way, whereas you can never get a following wind for an entire 200m race, unless the wind somehow miraculously turns around the bend!

So I still think it's hazardous to project upwards to 200m what bolt achieved over 150m, because in addition to the straight race, there are implications for wind - a 200m race would have had some of the race with a headwind, no matter what.

The following wind was of course legal, but in a 200m, it wouldn't provide the same degree of 'assistance'!

One can speculate, but I'd be very surprised if this tells us that Bolt is in world record shape for either the 100m or 200m events. As I said above, the more telling stat is that the second 50m of the race was SLOWER than his second 50m in Beijing, where he celebrated and lost time. He's just off that kind of form, therefore. So I can't see that he is in the same kind of shape as he was in beijing.

Then again, it's only May, and he's clearly in awesome shape. The world record must be on the cards for later this year!


Duff said...

Hello SOS.
Was waiting for your review of the times Usain posted. I am a runner but not technical (I rely on you guys for that) so wondered how his speed at 100m times work (as you have mentioned most sprinters slow down at the end)was his time due to his running start?
Still an amazing feat. Wonder how anyone can compete against him.
Also if he reduced his partying, would he improve?
And thanks for your reference to letsrun.com for enhanced coverage more track sports Even if it is bit on the tabloid side. But it is becoming my next favourite running site.

Anonymous said...

the guy is huge

NYVC said...

Hmm, seems like there's more running fans than cycling fans here, but...

The Federer win should be viewed with caution, because of Nadal's exhaustion, the fast conditions, etc. But Federer did many things in this match that he has stubbornly refused to do in the past. He played many drop shots, he chipped and charged on the second serve, he ran around second serves to hit forehands, and he took risks early in points to prevent Nadal from forcing him into drawn out rallies.

Don't forget that Federer has been the second best player on clay for a few years now. If, as you state, he gets a favorable draw, things could get interesting.

Andy Shen

Anonymous said...

From the Organisers (Nova International)

hi fellas,
great discussions here. to help with your thoughts the track surface (mondo) was laid on top of a flooring system that stretched for 225m down Deansgate. The track was then tested by UKa technical director and his team with the same equipment they test outdoor tracks with. the good news is that the surface fell inside the IAAF parameters required to ratify it as an official outdoor track. the only difference was that it was straight and it sounded different to a normal track as used expect.

the guys (and girls) loved it, Ivory even said it was a "fast" track. we worked with them closely on the whole project and it took a long time to perfect the build.

hope that helps.

wayfool said...

The splits for the 200m were 9.98 + 9.32. I think the 8.72 is possible, although the middle 50m in 4.26 is a little suspicious. I'm willing to bet the last 50m of his olympic games run was on the slow side.

runnerinsight.com said...

To think that Nadal is indeed the king of clay having captured the French Open 4 times in a row! Indeed, Federer must be celebrating right now being able to beat Nadal! Thanks you for this post! : )

Dustyn said...

Hey guys

Thanks for an awesome website, I can`t tell you how excited I get when I see a new posting up, especially when they involve this "freak" Bolt.

In your post on Usain Bolt after the Olympic Games you mentioned that you thought it was possible that Bolt may be achieving these phenomenal times unaided (without the use of performance enhancing drugs was what you were eluding to if I remember correctly). You mentioned something about a superior stress shortening cycle and the coordination of his running. Do you have any more info on this and any chance of an analysis of what you think makes this guy so unbelievably quick and so much better than everyone else??? I find this guy incredibly fascinating and I am very sure I am not the only one!

Finally I really enjoy your coverage of the marathons especially when the topic of the World Record comes up and where the time could be taken to in the future. Any predictions on where the Comrades Marathon records could be taken if we found some well prepared and quality sub 2:07 Kenyan/Ethiopian Marathoners on the start line???

Thanks again for your efforts on this site would be very appreciative of your thoughts!!!

Patrick said...

Steve Larsen, the retired cyclist and triathlete, died recently during track workouts. At 39 years old and in seemingly good health, this is the kind of story that scares the hell out of every amateur athlete--sudden death. If it turns out he did not have heart disease (autopsy pending), it's going to be another of those unexplained deaths during exercise for athletes that seem to be fit AND healthy. Jim Fixx had heart disease, understood. Other athletes have sudden death *during* exercise and we can't explain it.
Research and comment on this phenomenon, please. Frankly, I'm tired of seeing your efforts devoted to swim suits.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Patrick

Firstly, this is the first time i've written on swimming costumes since about September last year - a 9 month break, so that's a big hiatus.

To answer your questiona bout the sudden death, we've done plenty on that in the past (more than on swimming, actually). In 2007 there was a series of sudden deaths, ranging from a soccer player to Ryan Shay. If you go to this page:

and then scroll down you'll see the sub-heading "Sudden death during exercise", where there are five articles dealing with it.

They cover the basics, obviously not the detail and specifics, because we'd be speculating, but that is the general overview of the situation behind sudden cardiac death.


Patrick said...