Who is better in 200m? Michael Johnson or Usain Bolt considering several facts!

>> September 29, 2009

The greatest men in history requires no introduction! Even if you are not a fan of sports, you have probably heard their names being mentioned everywhere.

The likes of Jesse Owens, Bob Hayes, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Maurice Greene, and even the latest superstar whose trademark "lightning pose" Usain Bolt is known to everybody.

The two athletes that goes into my mind due to the dramatic performances in the same event are Michael Johnson and Usain Bolt. But there is almost no similarity between both. Johnson's physic is more appropriate for long sprints, but Bolt's physic gives him advantage over the shorter sprint distances. Johnson's prime time was ended a decade ago, while Bolt is still gearing up and leveraging his "empire".

Back in 1996 Olympics, Johnson shattered the world record with what was considered "a magic time" of 19.32s. He actually broke his own world record (19.66s) by more than three tenths of a second that he set in the U.S. Olympic trial a few weeks earlier.

The process of the record setting was not easy. Just like others, Johnson had to go through three rounds (heats, quarters, and semis) before his final 200m race. Prior to that, he took the Olympic 400m Gold in a time of 43.49s. It was a new Olympic record. But prior to that, he had to run three preliminaries rounds. In other words, Johnson had to run 1.8km sprint prior to his 200m finals. Details as follows;

Michael Johnson in 1996 Olympics

400m Heats (26 July) - 45.80s
400m Quarters (27 July) - 44.62s
400m Semis (28 July) - 44.59s
400m Finals (30 July) - 43.49s - OR

200m Heats (31 July) - 20.55s
200m Quarters (31 July) - 20.37s
200m Semis (1 Aug) - 20.27s
200m Finals (1 Aug) - 19.32s - OR / WR

Usain Bolt has gone through similar rounds in 2009 as Johnson (1996) but with shorter total distance which covered much more less than Johnson with (only) 1.0km, before destroying his WR (19.30s) from the Beijing Olympics with a time of 19.19s. If you were to compare the situation (Johnson vs Bolt at 200m), Johnson apparently in a "disadvantage" due to the extra distances to be covered.

We will further look into the following factors that distinguish between Johnson 19.32 and Bolt 19.19.

Running surface or track quality. The track surface at Olympic stadium at Berlin (where Bolt set 19.19) is called Polytan M  which is the latest and the best version of track that ever produced. It is harder, thus much more faster than the track surface (Mondo) at the 1996 Olympic stadium.

The Polytan M track at Berlin contains three-layer synthetic surface that provide higher elasticity and energy return in every strike to the track that will give an added advantage to sprinters (i.e. Usain Bolt) every time they hit (strike) the track surface. This will which allows them to move faster.

The IAAF recently awards Class 1 Certificate to the Polytan M, to confirm the outstanding quality of the running track.

Furthermore, a lot of changes in sports science, thus the training methodology since 1996. Training methods change when there are new scientific findings related to training, applied physiology and the biomechanics are produced. This gives other extra advantages to current athletes (i.e. Usain Bolt in this case).

There is a lot more that distinguish between the two eras. To be discussed in the next post.

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