Christian Coleman vs F1 car: Assessing the stats from the IAAF's biomechanics report


On Friday, the IAAF released the results of their biomechanical study on the 2018 World Indoor Championships in Birmingham.

The governing body of athletics periodically releases data on some of their biggest competitions, offering fascinating insight on the machinations of elite-level performances. With cameras stationed strategically around Arena Birmingham, it allowed sports scientists to salivate over an exhausting set of statistics and draw a number of conclusions from the data.

Perhaps the most interesting study concerned the men's 60 metre final. Although the biomechanics behind 100m finals have been investigated before, the latest IAAF study marked the first time that the sport's most explosive distance had been viewed in such detail. 

What makes the opportunity even more intriguing is that Christian Coleman - the world-record holder over the distance - competed and burst to victory on that very day. As a result, it allows us to draw some interesting conclusions from the fastest man in the world right now and the quickest human to ever contest 60m.

All that considered, here at GiveMeSport, we thought we would answer some interesting questions about Coleman's showing on the day. Starting with some more athletics-centric questions on sprinting performance to comparing his split times to Usain Bolt and even addressing the debate: could he beat a Formula One car over 10m? 

What can athletics coaches learn?

Ok, so before we delve into some unlikely hypothetical questions, let's take a look at what the data actually means for coaches and athletes interested in the 60m. Perhaps one of the most interesting statistics that emerged from the study was 'total block time' and the fact Coleman produced the smallest data set at 0.441 seconds.

There had been a general understanding that sprinters need to find a balance between swiftness from the blocks and taking the time to generate optimum power from the crouch position. It indicates that Coleman has the impressive skill of being able to muster maximum explosiveness - producing the fastest 10m split - while avoiding dwelling in the blocks.

That wasn't the case with Su Biatang, however, who actually produced the second highest block time despite eventually winning the silver medal. This would indicate that, barring exceptional cases like Coleman, the impetus shouldn't necessarily be on leaving the blocks as quickly as possible, despite the small margins being discussed. 

IAAF World Indoor Championships - Day Three

Matthew Wood address this data by explaining: "Coaches’ should therefore consider the transferability of activities used to teach the block clearance carefully. For example, decontextualized pushing or reaction style practices from the blocks that require no acceleration may be limited in their transfer to the skills required in the competitive environment."

Meanwhile, there was even data to suggest there were imperfections in Coleman's run, explaining why he didn't come closer to his world-record and implying that he could go even faster in the future. The indoor world champion lost a fraction of a second by producing the largest flight time from the blocks, leaving him in third by the time of first contact with the track. Food for thought.

Would Coleman have beaten Bolt?

Perhaps one of the most exciting offerings of split times is the opportunity to compare Coleman's run to previous findings from the IAAF. Unfortunately, in this instance, there isn't a consistent 10m breakdown from start to finish, but the opening splits are provided with Coleman coming out on top with a time of 1.856 second including his reaction.

So, does that make him a faster starter than Bolt? Coleman has raced against the legendary Jamaican on a number of occasions and clearly emerged form the blocks in a much better position at the 2017 World Championships. However, the comparison become a lot closer when we look at some of Bolt's faster runs and more polished starts.

Firstly, let's look at the reaction times. It took 0.151 seconds for Coleman to start in Birmingham, marginally slower than the response of Bolt during his world-record run in Berlin but quicker than his gold medal performance at the Beijing Olympics. 


In terms of the first 10 metres, the data is remarkably close with Bolt producing an identical first 10 metres in Beijing and a slightly slower split of 1.89 seconds during his personal best. Sadly, the lesser degree of accuracy in the Bolt data means we can't settle the debate for good but it proves both men are incredibly closely matched, although Coleman is far more consistent.

When you look at the entire 60m, Bolt has dipped below the world-record during both of his early career performances, registering 6.29 and 6.31 seconds respectively. However, given the distances between the two conditions and the lack of wind during indoor competitions, it seems unlikely that we'll ever know the exact victor.

Could Coleman beat an F1 car?

Now, arguably the most bizarre statistic that came from the biomechanics was actually a tweet from the IAAF, explaining that Coleman could potentially match a Formula One car over 10 metres. The caption on their social media read: 'The men's 60m sprinters took between 1.7 and 1.8 seconds to cover the first 10 metres. That's a similar speed to a Formula One car leaving the grid.'

A pretty remarkable statement to say the least and to put that into context, Coleman recorded a time of 5.87 metres-per-second (13.13mph) excluding reaction time. However, given the lack of data concerning F1 cars over such a short distance, deciding a winner is almost impossible but we have good reason to think Coleman would lose.

One of the very few experiments on the topic appeared on an instalment of American TV show 'MythBusters' where they pitted an Indy car against Wallace Spearmon. The test was carried out over 30 feet - shorter than 10 metres - and the automobile won on every single occasion. 


Admittedly, Spearmon has a 60m personal best of 6.66 seconds, considerably slower than Coleman, but the margin of victory suggests human beings are a long way behind. Couple that with the fact F1 cars have a much higher rate of acceleration than an Indy car - 90 kmh within 2.1 seconds as opposed to 3.4 seconds - and it doesn't look good for Coleman.

It's certainly no slight on the American to suggest he would lose to a vehicle that can reach 200mph, but it suggests that any human to car comparison should take place over a shorter distance. Either that or - per an article by Wired - we would need to reduce an Indy car's acceleration to a constant of 9m/s and throw a prime Bolt into the equation.

Or for any motor-heads, using a Formula E car would completely destroy the race with no clutch meaning no lag and a comprehensive loss for Coleman.

Do you think Christian Coleman could beat a F1 car over 10 metres? Have your say in the comments section below.

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