Fastest 40 Yard Dash? Usain Bolt or Deion Sanders?

Go straight to the end of the article for my opinionated video.

Deion Sanders is listed as the WR for the 40 yard dash with 4.17 on Wikipdia.  But was it really the fastest 40 yard dash ever?

We think Usain Bolt has the fastest 40 yard based on his 10 meter splits.  Maurice Green claims he’s the fastest (**SPOILER ALERT** Yes, there is some truth to this!)

I’ve been interviewed by several media outlets on this topic over the past 2 years, and I think it’s time to put the argument to rest.

Well, sort of.  There are so many variables, and I discuss them in the video.

Here are the facts.

Differences in the 40 Yard Dash test

Football 40 yard dash test:

  1. old results hand timed
  2. start on first motion, reaction time is not counted
  3. timer is manually started
  4. finish is electronic (newer test)
  5. on AstroTurf with football cleats

Track 40 yard extrapolation:

  1. timer starts at gun
  2. Reaction Time is accounted, minimum 0.100, average 0.150 seconds
  3. on synthetic track, with track spikes
  4. WC sprinters accelerate until 60m, novices 30m
  5. Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay accelerate until 65-70m

Hand Time to Electronic Time Considerations

IAAF Official Hand time conversion

  1. add 0.14 when gun and finish line are the same (400m)
  2. add 0.24 when gun and finish line are the different (100, 200m)

Hand time conversion from 1973 research from University of Giessen

  1. timer and starter closest to gun (i.e. 400 meters) averaged a differential of 0.18 seconds
  2. timer and starter at end of the 100 meter straightaway averaged differential of 0.24 seconds
  3. timer and starter across the field of the 200 meter (~125m) curve averaged differential of 0.26 seconds

Therefore, I suggest at 36.6m away, add 0.20 sec to a hand time with the runner 40 yards away.

40 Yard Dash Revisited

RT = Reaction Time

In the video, I made a slight “error” when I said the fastest 40 was Bolt with a 4.35 (with RT).  But it’s actually Mo with a 4.33.  When you subtract the RT, then Bolt wins, but it’s ever so close between Mo and Bolt with 4.19 and 4.20.

Here is the video on YouTube:


  1. Louie says

    Having been a pretty piss-poor college (American) football player myself, in my opinion Primetime would have had his jock handed to him by Mo, Usain, roided-up Ben/Tim, Carl, and Asafa in a 40. I was not the fastest guy on the field but ran the fastest 40 (4.37HT)on the team in camp my sophomore year wearing track spikes – enough to engage a sarcastic response from the head coach about the skinny white kid running fast. I think there was also a Spike Lee reference “its gotta be the shoes” from him too, prohibiting track spikes from that point on! Football guys can’t run with the true top track guys, just like track guys can’t really hang playing football at the highest level (I know there are exceptions, but very few truly at the most elite level). It is simply the law of specificity once you get to the professional level. The two are wired differently.

    • Jordan says

      Yeah but Deion was a football/baseball player….lets see how fast those guys are after taking a few or giving a few big hits…..

  2. Anthony Wallace says

    Lets not forget Louie that Dieon Sanders ran 10.26 w.06…so remember he was a professional football & baseball player. Only guy to win a superbowl and world series. So if he trained at track and not just run it to see what he could run, the sky is the limit. o yeah i am a Dieon Sanders fan and always stopped eveything to watch Primetime. I ran 4.3 in high school but took at track scholarship instead, but Dieon Sanders was flat out fast. Doesnt matter, if his time went into track like it did for the 2 other sports you would be having a different convo all together.

  3. Anthony Wallace says

    Also, you have blocks on the mondo and in spikes….to major differences. If you have ever run on the field turf you will know that there is a huge difference.

  4. Louie says

    I am not disputing Neon was fast, but also remember that football coaches aren’t known for their proficiency in operating a stopwatch!!

  5. says

    Hey Jimson, good blog & site! i love the accumulation of all of the research. i wanted to add an important variable to your equation for the “Fastest 40yd Dash?” debate. The NFL Combine testing is run solo, where? you lose the natural advantage of competition pushing you like the head-to-head competition on the track. i’m not certain there exists a mathematical formula to take that into account. But in my very humble opinion, its a very important one.

  6. nikolaus says

    No doubt about it neon deion is the fastest person of all time usain is fast but he trained for track his whole life deion trained for football/baseball I primetime being 46 years old would still give usain a run for his money

  7. Dee says

    Hey you forgot Bo Jackson, ran a 4.12 old turf at combine and like a few days later ran a 4.18 on pro day. Not sure if the second one was on grass or the old turf at Auburn.

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