Usain Bolt cruised to the men’s 100-metre title at the 2008 Olympics. Like, seriously.
While the Jamaican icon would later have to fight off stiff competition from Yohan Blake and Justin Gatlin later on in his career, there was absolutely nobody who could touch him that summer in Beijing.
Having nabbed the world record from his compatriot Asafa Powell earlier in the year with a blistering time of 9.72 seconds in New York, Bolt then went one better on his way to glory in China.
Bolt wins in Beijing
That’s because Bolt won his first individual Olympic gold medal with a mind-boggling time of 9.69 seconds despite multiple key factors seemingly going against his hopes of bettering the world record.
No, we’re not talking about the opposition because Bolt was miles upon miles ahead of silver medallist Richard Thompson, but rather the circumstances that were affecting him personally.
For starters, post-race images showed that Bolt’s laces had come untied by the time that he crossed the line and lest we forget the infamous story about him chowing down on chicken nuggets.
Bolt and his chicken nuggets
According to NBC Sports, Bolt wrote in one of his autobiographies: “Honestly, I ate nothing else in all my time out in China except chicken nuggets.
“They were the only food I could properly trust which wouldn’t affect my stomach. On arriving at the [pre-Olympic] training camp I’d tried a local Chinese meal, which wasn’t like the ones we we eat in the West, and my body didn’t react well.
“So, knowing I could rely on nuggets, I made up my mind that was all I would eat. And eat them I did, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, washed down with bottled water.”
Bolt celebrated early
However, the key detail that we’re most interested in is the fact that Bolt actually started celebrating fully 20 metres before crossing the line, stretching his arms out and beating his chest with joy.
It really is remarkable to watch all these years later the fastest man in history essentially making the Olympic final look like a sports day event by downing tools and slowing down with so much of the race still to run.
But at the same time, it can’t help making you wonder what time Bolt could possibly have posted had he ditched the celebrations and maintained that speed all the way through the last metre.
Besides, it’s interesting to note that when Bolt posted the current world record of 9.58 seconds the following year in Berlin, he did so by saving the celebrations for after the race was completed.
How fast could Bolt have run?
Well, wonder no longer because the question of how fast Bolt could actually have run in Beijing was actually answered later in 2008 by a group of experts based on his acceleration and velocity.
According to Phys.org, a team of physicists from the University of Oslo led by Hans Kristian Eriksen put in the hard yards to try and calculate how fast Bolt would have gone if it wasn’t for the celebrations.
“It all started with an interview with Usain Bolt’s coach published in the general media before a Golden League competition in Zurich,” Eriksen told PhysOrg.com at the time.
“He claimed that Bolt was on track for a 9.52-second record, had he not slowed down. Then it struck us that, given reasonable video footage of the race and some assumptions about his acceleration, it should be possible to ‘calculate’ what that time would have been.”
And by extrapolating data on Bolt’s speed before he slowed down into his celebrations, Eriksen’s team was able to calculate that he could have posted a time of 9.55 seconds with a room for error of 0.04 seconds.
So, in other words, had Bolt powered through the line in Beijing, there’s perhaps reason to believe that the 100-metre world record would actually be stronger now today that it was from Berlin.
And even in the worst-case scenario where the time might actually have been something more akin to 9.59 seconds, that still obviously blows Bolt’s actual time from the Olympic final out of the water.
Just a bit of fun
As the physicists themselves admitted, there’s no real way to know for certain how fast Bolt would have run because factors such as wind speed and potential tiredness could only be speculated on.
Plus, the extent to which Bolt would have continued to accelerate or not is also guesswork.
However, even just as a fun piece of physics, it’s still incredible to think that the monumental 100-metre world record that we know today could potentially have been even crazier had it not been for some legendary celebrations.
Then again, maybe we’d prefer to keep Bolt’s showboating in the history books as opposed to shaving a couple of extra hundredths of a second off the record sheet.