Reggie Bush vs. Usain Bolt

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 15, 2008 – One of the keys to the enormous success of the National Football League is hype.

It was on display again on Sunday on page 6 of the Los Angeles Times’ sports section, in a story headlined “Speedometer puts Bush near Bolt levels.”


A ESPN-developed speedometer “reading” of New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush on one of his long punt returns during the October 6 Monday night game against Minnesota showed him reaching a top “speed” of 22 miles per hour.

According to Times reporter Sam Farmer, “If you don’t think 22 mph sounds that fast, consider this: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt averaged 23.07 mph over 100 meters when he took the gold medal with his blistering 9.69-second performance at the Olympics.”

He also noted that “Yes, those speeds are averages over the distance, as opposed to Bush’s top speed at a given point. But those runners also weren’t carrying a football and saddled with a helmet and pads.”

This is unbelievable. Bush is nowhere near as fast as Bolt, pads or no pads, and here’s the proof:

(1) It’s true that Bolt averaged 23.07 mph over his entire race in Beijing . . . from a dead start. But the IAAF has detailed figures on Bolt’s reaction times and his splits every 10 meters during the race. When you subtract his 0.165 reaction time from his 9.69 final mark, his “travel time” of 9.53 averages out to a swifter 23.47 mph over 100 meters, a full mile-and-a-half faster than Bush’s peak speed in the middle of his punt return.

(2) When you examine Bolt’s 10-meter splits, he was fastest between 60-70 meters at 0.82 seconds. That’s a much faster 27.3 mph over 3-4 of Bolt’s strides, fully 24% faster than Bush at his very fastest.

(3) Over the last half of Bolt’s world-record race – including his celebration over the final7-8 meters – he covered 50 meters in 4.2 seconds, even while signaling victory at the end. That’s a sustained average, over about 12 strides, of 26.6 mph, for the equivalent of almost 55 yards on a football field!

(4) If you have ever read about the inaccuracies of radar guns used in baseball as well as by traffic officers, you know the quality of the measurement of Bush’s speed on the ESPN screen is subject to considerable question.

But assuming the radar measure of Bush’s top speed is right, would he be close to Bolt at the end of a 100 m race?

No. Not close at all.

Taking the top speed of the two men as reported, Bush’s 22 mph speed is worth 32.26 feet per second (pretty fast), but Bolt is flying at 27.3 mph or 40.04 feet per second! That means in a 100-meter race – with a running start and unrealistic constant top speed – Bolt would finish in a staggering 8.19 seconds, some 75 feet (23 meters) ahead of Bush, who would run 10.17!

That’s how much distance there is between them.

In fact, if one considers how fast all world-class sprinters run compared to Bush, it’s no contest. If you take his 22 mph top speed and assume he ran an entire 100 meters at that speed (resulting in a time of 10.17 as calculated above), he would rank equal-62nd on the 2008 year list. And when you add in a reasonable 0.17 reaction time (same as Bolt in Beijing), Bush’s resulting 10.34 wouldn’t even have met the “B” standard to allow him to compete at the Olympic Games.

Bush isn’t even the fastest man in football. Two college players – Jeff Demps at Florida and Trindon Holliday at LSU – ran 10.01 and 10.02, respectively, over the past two seasons and both participated in the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 100 meters in June.

To his credit, Bush ran 10.42 for 100 meters as a senior as Helix High in San Diego in 2002, fastest in California that season, and equal-ninth fastest in the country among preps. He would undoubtedly have improved into the 10.15-10.25 range if he had stayed with track, but his career in football is much more lucrative.

But while ESPN producer Jay Rothman’s idea of “tracking” Bush with a radar-like device to show his speed was certainly clever, there’s no way that Bush and Bolt are anywhere close in terms of speed.

It’s a measure of how well the NFL’s hype machine works when comparisons are even made between these two outstanding athletes who compete in much different fields . . . and at much different speeds.

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