Usain Bolt’s Olympic achievements feel simply inconceivable. His dominance continued with mind blowing victories this week in the London 2012 Olympics in the 100 meter and 200 meter races. How astonishing were his victories? The New York Times created a visual graphic of Bolt’s 100 meter feat in this digital interactive (titled One Race, Every Medalist Ever) comparing his result with all other medalists in the 100 meter race in the history of the Olympics. It’s a 2:45 video- absolutely worth the time to watch.
This is an excellent presentation that appeals to me on multiple levels:
- As a sports fan, it puts Bolt’s speed, athleticism, and accomplishments in crystal clear context. The historical comparisons to all Olympic medal holders, the fastest people in the world at that time, is what really demonstrates the beyond belief element of the achievement. It also raises curiosity beyond simply sports. It makes one think about human evolution, environmental and technological improvements over time, and the limits to the human body.
- Given my analytical inclination, seeing the increments in the improving time for the gold medalist over the years, my natural question is there a limit to how low the time can go and can and when can it get to less than 9 seconds? Such a question isn’t an easy one to answer and requires sophisticated statistical analysis. Researchers at Tilburg University concluded Bolt could realize his stated pre-Olympics objective of shaving nearly two tenths of a second off his current record of 9.58 to 9.40. As described in the article on Yahoo! sports,
One of the study’s authors, Sanders Smeets, told the AFP:
“Usain Bolt has said he is targeting 9.4 sec for the 100 metres and according to our results this is achievable as the absolute limit for a world record at the moment is 9.36 sec.”
The study used various mathematical and statistical models collated from the best times posted over 100m by the 1,034 best male athletes going back to 1991, Smeets explained.
The new study draws on an earlier one which Smeets carried out in 2008 which then suggested that the “ultimate world record” would be 9.51sec.
However, “in 2008, Usain Bolt’s records were not included in our data, which we published before the (Beijing) Olympics,” Smeets explained, adding the original version drew on data from only 762 athletes.
In this article in Discover Magazine, the authors focus more on the physics of the sprinting legs to see what conditions may support even improved times in the future. And finally, even more statistical analysis here to try to come to some sort of conclusion on what type of future times are possible. No clear conclusions, we’ll just have to watch, marvel and enjoy in the future.
- As a professional involved with financial analysis who regularly presents data to stakeholders, this is an inspiring display of data, using an interactive, visual method to leverage historic data to make a point about a current event. This is the type of analysis that NBC should be doing to add perspective for its viewers. Edward Tufte, considered one of the world’s foremost leaders in visual display of quantitative information, would certainly approve of this display. Of course, Tufte has famously said that probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn was this map by Charles Joseph Minard, which depicts the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812.
All in all, an impressive effort by the New York Times in displaying the incredible speed of Usain Bolt. Now, we’re just left to wait for the 9 second barrier to be beat.