The Bolt Effect: How chasing Usain Bolt made the world run faster

Pursuit of the world's best sprinter has forced competition to be quicker than ever just to keep up

He is the fastest man on two legs, the greatest sprinter of all time – and Usain Bolt can also claim another superlative. He alone has caused the other top athletes in the world to run faster.

Click HERE to view 'Fast track: 100m times through history' graphic

Scientists are calling it the "Usain Bolt Effect" because he has significantly improved the average performance of the world's top sprinters, who are now suddenly running about 1 per cent faster than they did prior to Bolt's explosive appearance in 2008 – a significant margin at this distance.

The reason? The sprinters are basically just trying harder to keep up with the competition.

Bolt holds the world 100-metres record of 9.58 seconds but believes he is capable of 9.4 seconds.

An analysis of the average speeds for the 100m sprint by the top 25 athletes over the past century shows a sudden and consistent improvement in performance over the past four years.

"We see in 2008 what we call the Usain Bolt Effect," said Professor Steve Haake of Sheffield Hallam University, who has analysed the records of every international 100m track event since 1888. "It is a little jump in performance when he appeared in that year. If we look at the top 25 sprinters and take Usain Bolt out of that list, so that you just analyse the other 24, you still get this step change.

"What's happened is that he's come on the block and the peer competition is such that everyone has improved."A graph of finishing times since 1888 shows an overall and consistent improvement with each decade. For instance, the average 100m event is now being run about 10 per cent faster than in 1948, Professor Haake said.

"The Usain Bolt Effect improved overall performance of the top 25 sprinters by 0.9 per cent, so almost 1 per cent. When you think that this entire performance index improved in total by 10 per cent since 1948, it is quite extraordinary that the Usain Bolt Effect accounts for a significant proportion of that improvement," he said.

The World Wars and the Korean conflict of the early 1950s resulted in significantly slower speeds, probably because athletes could not train and the pool of talent was made smaller. Another significant milestone came in 2000 with the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which appeared to halt the overall improvements in performance.

But Professor Haake believes further improvements in average performance will still be possible. "All performances in sport are levelling off and inevitably people ask, 'are we at the limit?' The answer is, 'no, not yet', but we're probably coming up to the limits of human physiology."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Website Editor

£15 - £17 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently r...

Primary Teachers needed for supply in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: We are looking to rec...

Primary Supply teaching jobs in Stowmarket

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: The Job An inner city Birmingham sc...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments