Speed & Footballers

FAO Editors and Journalists: Usain Bolt vs Footballers


I used to be a very highly-strung professional athlete. I took myself and my sport pretty seriously. I once spent 10 minutes arguing furiously with an official at the side of a track because he told me my blocks hadn’t slipped (they had). Once in a fit of rage at being stuck in traffic, I actually bit my steering wheel. I’m a much better person these days; years of pressure management techniques from sports psychologists have calmed me down. I practice mindfulness, meditate, and do yoga. If someone cuts me up on the road, I breathe deeply and carry on. I am, as my girlfriend would say, zen.


However, last night something awoke the beast within me. Something which caused me to use language that would make Malcolm Tucker blush. It was, of course, this article from the Mirror.


“The Arsenal Player OFFICIALLY Faster Than Bolt” (emphasis mine) the headline exclaimed. I mean, Jesus Christ. I understand that journalists and editors are under time pressure, and often have to write about things they might not fully understand. It’s a hard life, I’m sure. I’m here to help.


The article goes on to explain that Hector Bellerin, the young Arsenal right-back, had recently broken Arsenals 40m sprint record, clocking a time of 4.42 second. It then states that, during his World Record run, Usain Bolt “only” clocked 4.64 seconds to 40m. Therefore, and I quote, “halfway down the track, Bellerin could have been a good few metres in front”. Want another quote? “… there it is in black and white – over 40 metres, Arsenal’s right back would win.”


First of all, let’s examine the logical fallacy of this headline/story. Is it likely that a young footballer, who has to practise a wide range of skills, including actually kicking a football, as well as tactical and other fitness demands, could be faster than someone whose job it is to just focus on covering distances of 200m or less in as short a time as possible? That someone with almost perfect genetics, who spends 6 days per week honing his unbelievable talent, would be beaten over 40m by someone who does a bit of sprint training? That the fastest person by almost a country mile to ever walk this planet is not as good at HIS job as a Spanish under-21 international footballer?


Clearly, it’s stupid.


Then lets examine the facts of the case. “Arsenal Player OFFICIALLY Faster Than Bolt” (again, emphasis mine). Presumably this is IAAF ratified then? There was a wind gauge? Electronic blocks were used to measure reaction time? The IAAF have sent someone to measure the track? There was an official starter, with gun and electronic timing. Has anyone seen the photo finish to ensure it was accurate?


Of course, one thing that people writing these articles always forget is that, in a 100m race, there is a reaction time component. The gun fires, which starts the clock. The athletes then have to react to the sound of the gun. This can take anywhere between 0.1 and 0.2 seconds, but is usually in the region of 0.15 seconds. In his World Record run, Bolt’s reaction time was 0.164 seconds. Let’s add this on to Bellerin’s time of 4.42, and we get 4.58. Still faster than Bolt, but much less so.


Then let’s consider the starting method. I have no idea how Bellerin was timed, but I would wager it is one of two ways:

  • Hand timed
  • Timing Gates.

If it’s the former, then that is an incredibly inaccurate way to measure sprint speed. Over 100m, it can be as inaccurate as 0.5 seconds, and it is routine to add on 0.24s to any hand-timed performance to convert to electronic timing. If timing gates were used, then did Bellerin have a rolling start? This doesn’t have to be over much distance at all – even a slight backwards lean would give him more forward momentum than Bolt is allowed from the starting blocks, and would skew the time significantly in his favour.


Let’s assume that electronic timing gates were used, and Bellerin went from a standing start. In a sprint race, a photo finish is used to calculate the finish time. The point at which the athletes chest crosses the finish line is where the time is taken from. Using electronic timing gates, once a laser beam is broken, BY ANY PART OF THE BODY, then the time stops. So, for example, an arm could be outstretched to break the beam, which would give a quicker time.


“But Bolt’s a slow starter” I hear you exclaim. In his World Record run, Bolt was winning the World Championships by 0.04s at 40m. At 60m, he clocked what I’m pretty sure is the fastest 60m time ever recorded. So don’t start that with me.


Hopefully you can see that there are some significant problems within this article, and the many others like it. I’m sure Bellerin is fast, but to say he is officially faster than Bolt, whose job it is to be incredibly fast, is, quite frankly, a pot of crap. Please, when reading/writing/editing articles like this, think logically. And if you use the word official, make sure it is official.


I’m off to meditate.

21 thoughts on “Speed & Footballers”

  1. Couldn’t agree more Craig, though if we’re being accurate Bolt isn’t the fastest person “… to ever walk this planet”. Certainly the fastest in recent history. Cavemen were supposedly faster, were they not?

    Top article.


  2. I agree and would like to add simple chart that might explain why Bolt isn’t the fastest on 40m distance. Get back to me if you need it 😉

  3. No.
    In fact it’s more likely that the fastest person on earth is also better than the Spanish footballer at the latter’s job, than the reverse…

  4. I can’t believe you responded. Two words, ‘click’ ‘bait’. You even linked to back them in this article, thus only increasing the hits, and encouraging this kind of article in future.

    I see you felt like you had to set the story straight but no-one in their right mind gave it any credence, you shouldn’t have risen to the bait Craig. The original article has succeeded in its purpose to provoke response.

  5. Would the claimed time be more consistent with a ‘flying’ 40m – a 40m timed once the player was already up to full speed rather from a static start?

  6. Hi,

    Interesting article. I’m sure Arsenal would be happy to have someone of your stature along for one of their training/speed sessions.

    It may reduce your need for stress relief surrounding this situation too.


  7. I wonder, Craig, did you get yourself in a similar stew over those equally ridiculous reports in the media a little while back, that Usain Bolt fancied himself as a Man Utd player?


  8. Great article!
    Finally someone who is speaking out the BS in regards of those “unbelievable” fast footballers…
    Sad thing is, they will continue writing this rubbish -unfortunately!
    BTW: I didn’t know you used to had such a temper…

  9. Sorry Craig I much prefer the Mirrors version. Getting finickety over facts simply ruins a good story.

    Bolt is a slow starter. The fact that seven billion living humans (and 99.99999999999999% of dead) are slower is not really relevant. Neither are his World records and olympic golds. Too much is made of these sorts of things anyway.

    Bellerin is younger which is probably worth a good second or two. And he is Spanish, that’s got to be worth 3/100ths of a second. Combine that with the fact that he is paid a lot of money and I think you’ll agree that maybe your first thoughts of bolt being faster need to be reconsidered?

    I don’t blame you, as a sprinter from wanting to support bolt but facts are facts. Belleirun is both faster and more Spanish than Bolt. End of.

    1. Oh and also I note that you have “conveniently” not considered the fact that Belleirun is shorter than Bolt?

      Gravity will work harder on Belleirun than Bolt because of their relative heights. The impact being that Belleiruns chest will be ever so slightly (6/100ths of a second by my maths) ahead of Bolts in a forty metre race. As a past professional I’m surprised you didn’t consider this?

  10. I found the link to this on the Guardian, as part of the Richard Kilty article that’s on your Twitter feed.

    It seems the issue you have is with the article, not the player, yet your colleague sees fit to challenge the player to a race to prove what? That he didn’t run 40m in 4.42s. Not that a race would prove that. Does Bellerin still win if Kilty were to beat him, but run quicker than 4.42s?

    Anyway, let’s deal with some things in order.

    You make some good points about timing methods and the accuracy of the time, but really that’s an excessive response to a Mirror sub-editor using the word ‘officially’ hyperbolically.

    Secondly, on the subject of logical fallacies, none of your rebuttals actually show he didn’t run the time that’s claimed (something your colleague should take note of), they simply explain the differences between the time Bolt took to run the first 40m of his world record time and the time Bellerin ran. It doesn’t actually mean Bellerin didn’t run it. The NFL Combine is held annually and is a glorified school sports day for college players before the draft (in case you don’t follow the NFL and don’t know what it is). Bellerin’s time would have barely made the top 10 times this year alone for the 40yd dash, so it’s not an outlandish time for a talented athlete who isn’t a sprinter to run. As with whatever was done at Arsenal’s training ground, it’s not official, or consistent with 100m racing, but as your colleague claimed there was no way he ran that fast he’s clearly in the wrong that it’s an impossible claim. It should be noted that along with being hyperbolic and inaccurate in it’s use of the word ‘officially’, the article is simply placing 4.42s in context, so the average reader can understand just how quick that is. Because what does a 4.42s 40m really mean to most people?

    I’d also bring up Adam Gemili, who was a lower league footballer, but lacked much talent for the game beyond his speed and gave it up. It’s not a reach to suggest that he might well have ended up a footballer if he had been better at the football bits, so the idea of a talented sprinter ending up in football is not that outlandish. In a country like Spain, where there’s no tradition of elite sprinting that I can recall, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see top athletic talent funnelled into football.

    Two more points and then I’m done, firstly, if this is the zen you then you probably need to work a bit harder on meditating. To get so worked up over a fluff piece in a national newspaper of questionable quality (I don’t know which is more questionable, that they once employed Piers Morgan or that they had to sack him for running a made up story about prisoner abuse in Iraq) is hardly the picture of calm.

    Secondly, and this is the main reason I felt compelled to respond: ‘someone with almost perfect genetics’. How arrogant did you intend to sound when you wrote that? Because however arrogant you intended to sound, I’m pretty sure you exceeded your target by a wide margin. As if running fast in a straight line is the peak of human attainment we should all aspire to, the only acceptable definition of perfection.

    Would you wander into a cutting edge research laboratory and tell the researchers there that your ability to run fast from one side of it to the other, while not having a clue about the work they’re doing there, or the equipment they’re using makes you genetically superior? Is your argument that they only became scientists and researchers because they were too genetically inferior at running fast to make a career from it? That you could easily have done their job if you weren’t so gifted and special and had been forced to settle for that sort of career?

    How about great teachers, could you walk into a classroom and inspire 25 children to learn to read with your ability to run fast? Does a man who bites his steering wheel in traffic have the patience and empathy to nuture and develop children? Or are those talents also genetically inferior?

    Doctors, nurses, teachers, researchers, computer programmers, architects, artists and musicians. All genetically inferior because you can run faster than them over a short distance. Even if they’re smarter, or more compassionate. Better at precision tasks, able to create something from nothing. None of that is relevant, because perfection is measured not by your ability to do things, by your ability to learn, think and expand the sum of human intelligence. Not even by your ability in other athletic or competitive sports fields. Truly the only measure of genetic perfection is your ability to run fast over short distances for the entertainment of these lesser beings.

    Would you wander up to another competitor – an elite marathon or middle distance runner and explain to them that your ability to run fast over a shorter difference makes you genetically speaking closer to perfection than them?

    Or would you wander into a ring with Floyd Mayweather and explain how you’re better than him, genetically speaking, because, despite not being an Olympic or World Champion that would mark you out as an exceptional sprinter in your own era, you can run away from him quickly enough to avoid being laid out on your back by one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in history.

    Why then do you and your colleague seemingly take such offence at the idea that another elite athlete, in a different sport who is clearly also supremely physically gifted, might be able to run pretty fast in a straight line as well?

    It speaks to an inferiority complex so fundamental and deep-seated it might just be genetic.

  11. There is a big
    difference between the timing systems for football sprint times (timing gates with rolling start) and sprint times from blocks ( gun start and accurate timing equipment )

    Over 40m sprints the margins are small anyway, Sorry footballer you wouldn’t stand a chance,

  12. In addition to this, Usain bolts target during his 100m world record was the finishing line….100 metres away. How would his time be affected if he was aiming for a 40m finish line? I’m pretty sure it would be faster!

    Great article.

  13. It was through timing gates and the players were already sprinting.No-one at Arsenal has ever claimed these players are as fast as a sprinter,thats the stupid media for you.I did see an article claiming that these times wouldn’t even get in the top 10 of recorded sprints in the EPL this season.Apparently Jagielka is faster.Thoughts?

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