Bolt v Gatlin

24 Jun 2015

Bolt hasn’t broken an individual sprint record in six years. Neither has anyone else though—and neither has anyone else got a whiff of a global title when he’s managed to finish a race.

After the “worst performance” of his career in New York, we spotted that Bolt has clocked a similar time, with a similar wind reading and in the same month in 2009. That year he broke the world record. Clearly he’s an athlete that knows how to peak.

Bolt and Gatlin don’t need to worry about their national championships. Both have booked their places in Beijing as either the reigning champion (Bolt, 100m and 200m) or the 2014 Diamond League winner (Gatlin, 100m). Come the final (if all goes to plan) can the fastest man of all time muster up a performance to see off the much-maligned US athlete in the form of his life?

Seb Coe said he had “big problems” when Gatlin was nominated for athlete of the year in 2014. If he wins at the worlds you can assume those problems get bigger. It could happen: Gatlin has clocked 9.74 and 19.68 for the 100m and 200m, world number one in both events. Bolt, a bit pedestrian by his standards, has 20.13 for the 200m and languishes in 9th in the world so far this year. His 100m running hasn’t got started yet.

We’ve plotted Gatlin’s (2010-2014) and Bolt’s (2009-2013) 100m times over the course of a season to view any trends in their performances.

Bolt’s performance at the “business end of the season” is much better, with a clear improvement. Gatlin however runs slightly more evenly, with June being one of his faster months. In fact, when we did our 2014 adjusted 100m times last year, Gatlin’s 10.02 in Tokyo in May (into a -3.5 wind) was his best performance. This said, Gatlin did manage his 2012 season perfectly to peak for the Olympic final, taking the bronze behind Bolt and Blake.

On past seasons, you would back Bolt in Beijing. He’s always been the man for the big occasion and it’s on these platforms that Bolt has redefined sprinting. Gatlin knows there are a lot of people that don’t want him to win. If he does, the self-anointed “batman” of the sport could be taking it to darker soul-searching places.

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