World’s Fastest Man Using a Radar Gun?

How do you determine the Worlds Fastest Man?

  • The winner of the 100m Olympic Gold Medal (The Olympic shortest sprint distance)?
  • The “average speed” in meters per sec?  (memories of 1996?)
  • The fastest 10m segment? (with or without a running start?)
  • A radar gun (like a police radar) at an instantaneous point of time?

They all are based on time over distance.

We all remember 1996 where Michael Johnson ran 19.32 for 200m (200m / 19.32s = 10.35 m/s).  Donovan Bailey ran 9.84 for 100m (100m / 9.84s = 10.16 m/s).  But the equation is flawed, as the 2nd half of the 200m has a running start!  We don’t need a showdown to proves this, do we?

The 100m time includes acceleration out of the blocks for almost two-thirds of the race, so the peak speed would be recorded around the 60 meter mark. In Tyson Gay or Usain Bolt‘s case, it’s more like 65 or 70 meters.  For youth and Masters, it’s much sooner!

What is Velocity?

The term “Velocity” can be broken down into 3 components:

  • Average velocity
  • Instantaneous velocity
  • Speed

I used the terms “quicker” and “faster” when discussing then Moye blocks. You can be quick, but not fast. You can be fast, but not quick. Then there’s the trade-off between being too quick or too powerful out of the blocks..

The problem with being quick, like the Moye blocks, is you are standing up sooner and have better leg turnover, but no power. It’s like pushing a car stuck in the snow for all my friends in Montreal and the East coast USA. Are you vertical, or more horizontal for more power?

The term “Faster” means either “farther” (greater distance) or “sooner” (less time).

In order for you or me to calculate the speed of an object, we must know how far it goes AND how long it takes to get there. When you ask “how far”, are you referring to the distance, or the displacement?


Speed is the rate of change of distance with time.
Velocity is the rate of change of displacement with time.

Remember high school or college physics? Speed is a scalar and velocity is a vector.

Speed gets the symbol v (italic) and velocity gets the symbol v (boldface).

Thus, the instantaneous speed of an object is the magnitude of its instantaneous velocity where:

v = |v|

The Distance is Fixed, the Measurement is Time

The average sports fan and TV viewer prefers (at least conceptually) the measurement of time. Of course, the average television fan doesn’t consider other factors such as wind, altitude, track surface, or modern technology such as speed suits or high tech sprint spikes.

But we really should be using velocity.

The problem with measuring time is it doesn’t show the whole picture. There are many components to 100 meter race.

In track, ideally a 10 meter segment can be used, only if official splits are setup. Video analysis are not accurate unless you have the same setup for every race. Video analysis is accurate when used among different athletes in the same race (like the IAAF biomechanical studies)

Then again, they don’t give gold medals to the fastest 10 meter segment, or 40 yard dash for that matter.

It doesn’t take much to figure out that the secret of a great 100m time is reaching top speed (acceleration), a fast top speed (maximum velocity), and maintaining that top speed (speed endurance). Perhaps splitting atoms is easier?

0.83 sec/10 meters translates to 12 meters per second (m/s) or almost 27 miles per hour (mph) or 43 kilometers per hour (kph)  (see chart on left)

Very few elite sprinters have reached the 12 m/s “speed limit”, that list includes Tim Montgomery, Maurice Green, and Ben Johnson. Of course, add today’s superstars like Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt.

Only in Beijing 2008 did we see Usain Bolt drop that to 0.82 sec/10 meters, then dropping again to 0.81 sec/10 meters in Berlin 2009.

Radar Guns

If you want a good chuckle, check out this YouTube video.  Remember, he is using a cheap radar gun used for baseball pitchers, and he is running away from the radar gun, and not towards it!

To put this argument to rest, I asked my good friend Matt Bogdanowicz (world record holder of the maximum pull-ups in one minute, former world record holder for number of pull-ups in one hour, and attempted the 30 minute pull-ups WR) to lace up his shoes (not spikes) and gave it a try.

In his first attempt, after a quick warm-up, he reaches 16mph, but on his second attempt, he hits 18mph and eventually 19mph.  Not bad for an 800m/Steeplechase runner!

Now THIS is more accurate, don’t you think?

By the way, Usain Bolt and a few others would get a ticket for running faster than 25mph in a school zone!

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee