Usain’s Start….Not a Lightning Bolt

Usain Bolt finished 3rd at the 2017 IAAF World Championships recently in London, England, which was his first defeat at a major championship final in several years. However, from start to finish Bolt covered the 100-meter distance faster than any of his competitors; so, Bolt was the fastest runner in the race but he did not win, in fact, he placed third.

How can the fastest runner place third?

Simple, a really bad start…Usain Bolt’s reaction time from the starting pistol to his first movement was .183 seconds. Compare Usain Bolt’s reaction time to winner Justin Gatlin, Gatlin recorded a .138 reaction time.

If the reaction times were equal between the three medalists Justin Gatlin, Christian Coleman and Usain Bolt, the race would have been totally different. Here are the adjusted times to hundredths of a second without the reaction times from the starting blocks.

ADJUSTED 100 Meter Times

9.77 Usain Bolt

9.79 Justin Gatlin

9.82 Christian Coleman

Now, let’s look at the reaction times of the three medalists:


Usain Bolt .183

Justin Gatlin .138

Christian Coleman .123

Now, look at the final results with the actual performance including reaction times from the 100 meter race in London.

100m Final Results

Bolt’s reaction time of .183 was far slower when compared to Gatlin; it was .045 less. Bolt lost the overall race by .03:  Bolt would have won the race with an equal reaction time out of the blocks, he would have won the 100-meter World Championship even with an average start.

In the 2016 Olympic Games, Usain Bolt had a reaction time of .155 and Justin Gatlin’s reaction time was .152. Although Usain Bolt’s start was slower than six of his opponents in Rio, he still managed to win the race over Justin Gatlin by .08 seconds. However, his start at the 2017 IAAF World Championships was beyond recovery.

If Usain Bolt’s reaction time was .150, he would have run 9.80 for the 100m sprint at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London, England. The reaction time between .135 – .155 is considered typical of a world-class runner for the 100m. Christian Coleman’s reaction time of .123 was exceptional.

The worst reaction time in the final at the 2017 IAAF World Championships was China’s Bingtian Su at .224. The best overall reaction time of the competition was Kukyoung Kim of Korea at .115. Kim placed last in his semi-final race clocking 10.40 over 100m. Which is still very fast.

How is your reaction time?

You can practice your reaction time at home courtesy of The New York Times:

Maybe Bolt was afraid to drive out of the blocks, especially since he false-started at the 2011 World Championships. Whatever the case, Usain Bolt is still very fast. With a better start and his speed, Usain Bolt can be a dominant force in track and field for at least a few more years.