Calculating the result if Kylian Mbappe raced a prime Usain Bolt over 100m

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In April of this year, members of the world media scandalously declared that Kylian Mbappe had ran faster than Usain Bolt during a match against AS Monaco.

The World Cup winner clocked an impressive top speed of 38 kilometres per hour (23.6mph), which was identified as being faster than Bolt's average speed from his 100m world record in 2009.

So, a footballer had outdone the fastest man in history without any sprint training, wearing studded boots, running across grass and all before nearly scoring? Get out of town.

To emphasise the absurdity of comparisons between average and top speeds, Mbappe would run a 100-metre time of 9.49 seconds if he could maintain that 23.6mph clocking.

A potential world record by one of the biggest margins in history and he's never practised nor raced a single world-class sprinter? I won't even deign to explain that it's ridiculous.

Debunking Mbappe vs Bolt

Not enough attention was brought to the fact that Bolt, who had a standing start to contend with, reached a top speed of 27.8mph during that run in Berlin which absolutely demolishes Mbappe.

But once we brush aside any farcical suggestions that Mbappe could beat a prime Bolt, let's try and visualise how a race between the two would actually pan out.

And it's about more than translating the 4.2mph discrepancy between their top speeds into the speed=distance/time equation.

Firstly, Mbappe's top speed was achieved in a sprint from outside of the centre circle to the edge of the penalty area, which is less than the 55-metre point at which elite sprinters reach optimum pace.

As a result, for all our bashing of the French striker, Mbappe can feasibly go much faster and especially if we make a presumption that he could master a crouched start from blocks.

Using Ronaldo as a yardstick

But in the absolute dearth of statistics for footballers over 100m, we're having to use none other than Cristiano Ronaldo as something of a yardstick for Mbappe.

The Juventus man was recorded at around 10.00 seconds over 92 metres in September, which translates to a 100m time of approximately 10.87 seconds. 

But considering that 92-metre clocking includes Ronaldo's acceleration, we can shave it down to something more in the region of 10.65. There's no way of being exact, however.

That gives us an upper boundary for our predicted Mbappe time with Ronaldo clocking a career-high top speed of 34mph at the 2018 World Cup, which is comfortably behind the Frenchman.

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The Portuguese will most certainly have ran faster throughout his career, but we can only go off speeds that have been officially recorded. A YouTube clip and a stopwatch don't count, sorry.

Top-to-average speed differences

And that's exactly where the footballing path let's us down. 

The discrepancy between average and top speeds for Ronaldo comes in at a suspect 3.7%, compared to Bolt's 16%, which is simply unbelievable in its narrowness. 

For any Ronaldo fans out there, that's us saying that we believe he can produce a quicker top speed, by the way.

To save arguments, we'll stay focused on the richer data of the athletics world and it makes sense if we're going to treat Mbappe as a sprinter to give him the best possible chance.

We've settled on the mean top-to-average speed difference of 15.66% between the 2009 medallists: Bolt, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell. Remember that number.

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Finding Mbappe's 'true' top speed

But what about boosting Mbappe's top speed to a more realistic figure? 

Well, using some rough calculations from the Parc des Princes pitch dimensions, we can decree that Mbappe's sprint took place over approximately 40.575 metres.

That's giving the benefit of the doubt to Mbappe that he began with a standing start after passing to Moussa Diaby and decelerated upon waiting for the ball around the penalty area.

Now, the data isn't available for Bolt's exact top speed prior to 40.575m, but his speed between 30 and 40 metres comes in at 25.7mph, which is just over 2mph (7.1%) shy of his eventual peak. 

That comparison is enough for us to make the leap that Mbappe's 'true' top speed could be around 25.4mph.

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The result of Mbappe vs Bolt?

Therefore, when you reverse engineer that top speed into an average speed predetermined at a discrepancy of 15.66% (remember that?), you end up with a figure of 21.422 mph.

That, in turn, gives us a rough 100-metre time of 10.43 seconds. That's 0.85 seconds behind Bolt.

And what would that look like on the track exactly? Well, it means that Mbappe would cover about 91.738 metres in 9.58 seconds and would therefore be eight metres behind Bolt.

When we say that's a massacre in sprinting terms, we mean that's a massacre in sprinting terms. It wouldn't even be close. 

Athletics - Olympics: Day 14

Heavy defeat for Mbappe... even in the best-case scenario

Now, there are several things to disclaim here and trust us when we say this is the ideal scenario for Mbappe - and no less because we're assuming he can execute a world-class start from blocks.

But we're confident that our conclusion of 10.43 seconds is reasonably accurate if he received a suitable amount of sprint training.

For reference, that would actually have won him a gold medal at the most recent 2019 French Athletics Championships, but wouldn't even vaguely translate to Olympic success.

It wouldn't have been good enough to pass the heats at Rio 2016, London 2012 or Beijing 2008 nor any of the recent World Athletics Championships. 

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But it's enough reason for us to think that Mbappe could have been a sprinter in another life - albeit an average one - and that's in spite of the fuzziness around the stats of which there is such a lack.

There's one thing we can be certain of, though: regardless of the 100m time you decide upon for Mbappe, comparing his speed to Bolt's is unequivocally brainless. Put respect on Usain.

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