Category Archive:

  1. “How do you put that 45.94 into context?”

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    Today we’re looking at one of the greatest races of all time: the men’s 400m hurdles final at the Tokyo Olympics. It’s got splits, conjecture and reflects on what it could all mean for the 2023 outdoor season.

    Karsten Warholm wasn’t born when Kevin Young set his 46.78 world record at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. It wasn’t until he was 22 that another sub-47 time appeared on the lists (Abderrahman Samba, Paris, 2018). 

    The event was in the long shadow of past greats: Edwin Moses’ winning time in Montreal 1976 would have put him on the podium in every subsequent Olympics until Tokyo came around—a scenario unique to the men’s sprints and hurdles categories.

    When Warholm broke 47 in 2019 he became only the third man to do so (pushed by Rai Benjamin, who became the fourth). It started his relentless race against the clock. Solo effort after solo effort—close but not close enough—palms pressed to his face.

    Tokyo, August 3rd, 2021

    “How do you put that 45.94 into context? I started asking my colleagues whether that was the greatest race they’d ever seen in person, but their responses quickly made me realize I was asking the wrong question. I should have been asking whether that was the greatest race in the history of the sport.”
               —Jonathan Gault, Letsrun

    We expect great things from great athletes. Warholm became the Olympic champion and lowered his world record—but what made this one for the ages was a collection of athletes ready to put it all out there to win; it was a race. 

    Five of the top 10 Olympic times were set in this final alone. 1976 Ed Moses wouldn’t have made the podium—and neither would 1992 Kevin Young. The three greatest male 400m hurdlers of all time met in one race, the stars had aligned.

     Karsten Warholm: the imperfect race

    Oslo, July 2021. Warholm sets the world record through a “perfect” race out in lane seven, 13 strides between the hurdles using his favoured leading left leg throughout and taking the victory by almost 0.7 seconds. 

    Tokyo, August 2021. One medallist runs 13 strides consistently between the hurdles and it wasn’t the Norwegian—Warholm performs a “double cutdown” to 15 strides to take the last hurdle with his left leg. Hurdles coach Ralph Lindeman (who sadly passed in 2022) said “very few elite hurdlers ever use a double cutdown transition in a race situation” since stride length must be drastically shortened before taking the hurdle. As in art and science, it can be “imperfection” that breaks boundaries. 

    Oslo saw a phenomenal time trial; Tokyo witnessed a man who wanted to win a race.

    The balance of Warholm’s splits is clear. He gets out hard and commits. His split between hurdles one and two of 3.5 seconds was the fastest of any athlete in the race and you can see the decline sequentially as the race goes on.

    But how hard does he go out? Butch Reynolds clocked a 200m split on 21.4 in his 1987 400m world record. Warholm hits 200m in 21.5. Just a tenth difference despite the five barriers.

    Both are unofficial splits, but Warholm was also clocked at 21.5 for 200m in an official split in the Eugene World Championships final last year. In the lead up to that race the world-record holder had had a blighted season, however, what this tactical approach shows is that he runs one way. He always gets out hard, always leads with his left leg regardless of fitness levels. When he executes to his potential, he’s the best—but when he can’t, is he able to find another way to win?

     Rai Benjamin: “almost as brilliant”

    “If you would have told me that I was going to run 46.1 and lose, I would probably beat you up and tell you to get out of my room” was Rai Benjamin’s response after the race. 

    It could’ve been different; these two athletes tackle races in different ways creating a dramatic choreography to get us to the edge of our seats. Warholm blasts out of the blocks and Benjamin makes a late surge. 

    You often see Benjamin make this surge around hurdle seven (we had his split at just under 4.0 but rounded it in the graphic). The gap between the two men grows in Warholm’s favour before maxing out at hurdle six (around .3 seconds). Then Benjamin reels him in. At hurdle ten—coinciding with Warholm’s choppier strides for his double cutdown—it was less than a tenth of a second. The momentum was Benjamin’s, neck and neck, charging off that final hurdle. It was Warholm who found something extra, a final charge.

    “Benjamin was almost as brilliant; were it not for Warholm, Benjamin’s .53 improvement on the previous WR would still have been the largest improvement of the record in 53 years.”
             —Jonathan Gault, Letsrun

    Fine margins matter in these spectacular sporting moments. Warholm has an in-built advantage over Benjamin: his natural left-footedness. A left-leg lead is said to be worth .12 over the course of the race enabling an athlete to run on the inside of the curve (Lindeman). But what Warholm found in that final 40 metres goes beyond that, just as his 45.94 redefines the event.

    Alison dos Santos: going for the upgrade

    Young’s world record stood for nearly 29 years and three athletes surpassed the mark in a single race. Alison dos Santos finished up with the bronze, but there is gold in this athlete. 

    At only 22, he became the world champion a year later beating both Benjamin and a not-in-form Warholm in Eugene. His Tokyo race hinted at this potential and in 2022 he stepped up again to optimise his performance.

    In Tokyo, he switches his lead leg and strides (a dual alternate) at hurdles four and five, ending up with the fastest finish of the race. Out of the three medallist he is the only one who switches his lead leg, which may show a tactical flexibility over his rivals, or that perhaps he hasn’t perfected his race to lead with his strongest leg (if you believe the single-lead leg/13 strides approach is superior).

    His final surge secured the bronze with a massive PB, but ultimately he was too far out of it to be in contention for the gold. And, like Benjamin, there’s no ignominy finishing third in one of the greatest races of all time. But what we saw from dos Santos in 2022 shows a desire and ability to be at the top of the podium.

    In the opening Diamond League race in Doha, the Brazilian ran a 10.7 official split for the first 100m. To put that into context, it’s the same unofficial split as Wayde van Niekerk had for the opening 100m of his 400m world record. He fades afterwards, but the intent is clear. His commitment to the beginning of the race could be seen throughout his racing in the 2022 season.

    Looking at his half-way splits we see the difference too. In Tokyo, our splits have him at 22.3, while in the Diamond Leagues that season he was averaging 22.75. Fast-forward to 2022 and his world championship 200m split was 21.67, with a Diamond League average of 22.44. That’s .6 faster in the championships and .3 faster on the circuit. His improvement across the seasons—with a new PB of 46.29 in Eugene 2022—was finding improvement in the first half of the race. He had learned something from Warholm.

    Unlike the Norwegian though, dos Santos has tactical flexibility too by being able to switch lead legs. Watching back several his races from 2022 he demonstrates versatility matched with fast times. In Stockholm he completes the second half of the hurdles with his left leg—like he did in Tokyo. While with his run in Silesia he inverts his approach completing the last five hurdles leading with his right leg. At a critical moment this flexibility could be the difference between gold and silver, perhaps even a world record.

    While the discussion will continue of where this ranks in the pantheon of races, this race has started something and for all these athletes it’s not about what’s done, it’s about what’s next. Bring on Budapest, bring on Paris.

  2. Breaking down Rojas’ triple jump world record

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    Was there a bigger favourite for gold in Tokyo than Yulimar Rojas? She ends 2021 with the top eight marks in the women’s triple jump and jumped two feet further than her nearest rival. It was a peerless season that has seen her also dominate the all-time list, where she now holds six of the top 10 marks.

    The bigger question in Tokyo was whether she would have a world record to go with her gold medal. Rojas had been relentlessly chasing it all season, coming within 7cm of Inessa Kravets’ mark (15.50m) back in May. Although it was to be a perfectly choreographed moment on the biggest stage in August where she would jump an enormous 15.67m.

    Let’s break down the jump using the official analysis from the Olympics to get an insight of just how she did it.

    Rojas’ world record jump phases (metres)

    Two phases are particularly notable: an incredible jump phase at 5.99m, but a relatively modest 3.82m step phase. It is tempting to look at the latter and see it as an area for improvement. Indeed, looking at the data from the top-eight Olympic finalists, it shows that Rojas places last for her step phase—but first for both her hop and jump phases. While this variation can be seen in her fellow medallists, Patricia Mamona and Ana Peleteiro, it’s not as extreme.

    Rank for each individual phase

    Top eight athletes, Olympic final

    We asked Dr Catherine Tucker, senior lecturer in sports and exercise biomechanics at Leeds Beckett University, for her view on Rojas’ jump. “For some athletes, the step phase can be a significant contributor to overall distance or sometimes it can be just a transition between the hop and jump phases.” Tucker, who has produced biomechanical reports for World Athletics, also says “it’s clear that Rojas is able to achieve longer distances maintaining her step phases at approximately 27% of her total distance.” And indeed less in her world-record breaking jump where it was around 24%.

    Contribution of each phase to overall distance (%)

    Tucker highlighted that a significant factor to Rojas finally achieving the world record is her combination of approach speed and accuracy on the board. The principle of the triple jump is to maximise horizontal velocity into the board and try and maintain it, while gaining vertical velocity across the hop, step and jump phases. Rojas’ approach speed was clocked at 40.2km/h—which, if accurate, puts her amongst the world’s best sprinters. Combining this with her placement ahead of the board (2.6cm), allowed her to make the most of that speed driving two massive hop and jump phases (with the step functioning as a transition).

    Could we see Rojas better her own record? Tucker says it’s possible, but probably by improving on the same approach: “it may not be in the extension of the step phase… it may be through reaching a high a run-up speed as possible with accurate placement on the board meaning she can optimise her hop and jump phases”.

    Even if she doesn’t, Rojas gifted us with a magical Olympic moment. We could speculate on what she could do in the 100m with that top speed, or even the long jump with that 5.99m final leap. But it’s probably best that we should marvel in her exceptional mastery of this event and see how far she can take it.

  3. The fastest men and their drug bans

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    No event garners the same attention as the 100m; it has the speed, the power and the intensity. Everything can change metre by metre and the outcome is never certain until athletes cross the line—or rather when the results are in from the drug testers sometimes days, months or years later.

    The event has its heroes, villains, and villains who used to be heroes. While it draws in the crowds, suspicions continue around its finest performers. It’s easy to see why: 80% of the current all-time top 10 have had a doping ban of some variety.

    100m men, all time top 10

    Served or serving a ban

    Perhaps this is too simplistic though. Is Yohan Blake’s ban for a drug not on WADA’s banned list as bad as the two-time failures (and subsequent lifetime ban) of Steve Mullings? How about Shawn Crawford, who had retired when he received a ban for whereabouts failures? There’s nuance here.

    Bans in all-time top 30

    Total length in months

    With the help of Peter Larsson, we’ve been able to chart the fastest annulled doping marks against the world record. There are three marks that would have surpassed or equalled the world record. Ben Johnson’s illegal mark is the only one that would have obliterated the record (improving it by 0.13 seconds). Justin Gatlin would have equalled Powell’s 9.77, but ironically the American would run a faster legal time (9.74) at the age of 33 than with illegal assistance aged 24.

    100m world record progress

    Alongside fastest annulled doping marks

  4. Nike top brand medal table, but Puma on the rise

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    The swoosh has been everywhere on the track and in the field in Tokyo. Nike was the spike of choice for 11 out of the 12 middle distance medallists, on the chest of the top-three in the men’s 200m final, while also sponsoring the stand-out sprint star in Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah, who took down Flo-Jo’s 100m Olympic record with their latest shoe technology.

    It will come as no surprise that Nike was again the most dominant brand in Olympic athletics. The global sports giant was on the vest of 53 medallists and was on the feet of 73—and remains in the top spot that it had in Rio in our brands medal table.

    Shoe brands worn by medallists in competition

    Nike’s totals, however, have declined. Its shoe share is down 16 medals (89 to 73)—while Puma has made a surge (4 to 16, or a 300% increase). Nike it seems decided not to extend or renew contracts for the delayed Olympics with Puma sweeping up some of that talent. Puma’s longer-term deals also came to fruition, most notably with Canada’s Andre De Grasse, who inked a multiyear deal back in 2015 reportedly worth as much as $30 million.

    This may be a shift in strategy from Nike that has had an impact beyond track and field, a sport in which it has deep roots. In football, stars like Sergio Ramos and Thiago Alcantara took to blacking out their boots earlier this year. The suggestion then was that Nike was focusing on a smaller number of elite athletes that could be at the core of their campaigns.

    Just because an athlete is wearing a brand in track and field doesn’t mean that they are actually sponsored at all, or in any meaningful way. Some could be “kit drops”, others might have bought a product themselves. New Zealand’s Tom Walsh wore blacked out Nikes for his shot put final, but has had “SPACE FOR RENT” emblazoned on his vest in the Diamond League this season. Others may be ensuring that they don’t miss out on carbon-plated “super spikes”. Britain’s Josh Kerr—Brooks sponsored—wore “whited-out” Nikes for his bronze-medal-winning performance.

    There was also room for two new brands; Allyson Felix’s Saysh and fellow American Joe Kovacs wore Velaasa, a shoe brand founded by Lynden Reder that ran a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2018. New Balance stepped up a notch with their sponsorship of Sydney McLaughlin, Gabby Thomas and Femke Bol.

    National vest sponsors of medallists

    Nike topped the vests chart through its sponsorship deals with federations, but this was down (71 to 53) and again Puma had the most dramatic boost (15 to 22). This included a shoe and vest double with Norwegian Karsten Warholm’s 400m hurdles world record. Asics, a Japanese company and an official Olympic gold partner, also saw a boost (8 to 13).

    Puma may have had one more medal, but decided to cancel its $2.7m sponsorship of the Nigerian team. (Apparently, this delighted Nigerian officials). For its only medal in the women’s long jump, Ese Brume wore the lesser-known sporting brand AFA on her chest. Of these smaller brands, AF’s position is entirely down to Poland’s performance, while Belgian sponsor Vermarc can once more thank Nafissatou Thiam for making the medal table.

    Charts show individual track and field events, no relays or road races. One athlete wore different brands across the heptathlon, so her final shoe brand in the 800m was counted here. For the vest count, it is the competing vest and not the podium tracksuit where the brands may differ. Javelin Olympic champion, India’s Neeraj Chopra had no discernible logo on his vest. It is categorised here as “other”.

  5. Analysis: McLaughlin’s 400m hurdles world record

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    Their last three races have produced three world records. Sydney McLaughlin vs Dalilah Muhammad is one of the best rivalries in track and field today, but it’s Muhammed who has been more dominant in head-to-heads and taking the records. Are we seeing the balance begin to change?

    In the combined 30 hurdles from those three races, McLaughlin has been behind Muhammad for 29 of them—only taking the lead on the final hurdle in the US trials to be the first woman under 52 seconds in the event. We know Muhammad gets out hard, while McLaughlin finishes strong; her time from the last hurdle to the finishing line in the trials (5.40) was just short of the fastest ever—the 5.39 that she set in her world junior record.

    Overall McLaughlin is going to run a more even race between the two; it’s a question of whether she can rein in Muhammad over the final hurdles. At the US trials she did it, moving into the lead at hurdle 10 as you can see from the splits.

    The circumstances are different from their last meeting in the 2019 world championships. The victor in Doha that time, Muhammad has had an interrupted season contracting covid-19 and even clocked a 55-second race in her first outing of the season. To come down to 52.42 in time for the trials is an incredible turnaround (previous splits suggest it’s the first half of the race that will become sharper in Tokyo). Muhammad ran “her race” in both Doha 2019 and Eugene 2021: consistently putting together 15 strides from the second to eighth hurdle, dropping to 16s for the last two meaning a temporary switch to her weaker left leg.

    It’s McLaughlin who has evolved from Doha. In 2019, you might recall in the run up to hurdle eight she drops to 16 strides (one hurdle before Muhammad makes the switch) and has to use to her weaker left leg for two of the final three hurdles. It’s a noticeable adjustment despite a strong overall finish.

    You can see how this is ironed out in her stride pattern. These charts show her strides and lead-hurdling legs from Doha 2019 and Eugene 2021. McLaughlin’s more controlled pattern meant that she was able to rely on her stronger hurdling leg (right) in the more fatigued part of the race. It sets up a stronger finish to overhaul Muhammad—and ultimately delivers a world record.

    Doha 2019

    McLaughlin stride patten

    US trials 2021

    McLaughlin stride patten

    McLaughlin had the perfect position (lane 6) to judge the race and the perfect “pacemaker” in Muhammad (lane 7). Knowing she would go out fast, she could track her adopting a 14-stride pattern that demonstrated her ease at switching between legs in the early part of the race. (Utilising a left leg lead also means that an athlete can run on the inside of the curve, saving distance/time. Karsten Warholm completed all ten hurdles with a left-leg lead in his recent world record—this approach could be worth up to 0.13 in the men’s event by some estimates.) Then after hurdle five, she puts together a storming series of 15 strides leading with her strong leg all the way home. Was this an approach designed to play to her strengths to beat Muhammad or is this part of McLaughlin’s evolution? Either way no woman has ever run a faster race in the event.

    In Tokyo there will be another athlete they will both have to contend with. The emergence of the Netherland’s Femke Bol, who recently ran 52.37, means it might not be an all-American affair. Like McLaughlin, at 21 she could become the youngest-ever winner of the women’s event supplanting Nawal El Moutawakel, Morocco’s first ever Olympic gold medallist, who was 22 when she won the inaugural event at the 1984 Games.

    It felt inevitable that McLaughlin would put together a world record race, just as it feels inevitable that she will break it again. She recently stated her ambition of running 15 strides between each hurdle, “that’s what a perfect race looks like”. If someone is going to put together that perfect race you would probably bet it would be her. But don’t be surprised if it takes another world record for whoever wins the gold in Tokyo this summer.

    The unofficial splits were provided by ATLAS, a system powered by PrimeTime Timing and Karmarush. PJ Vazel did a masterful breakdown of Muhammad’s first world record from July 2019 which has informed this analysis.

  6. Introducing the Competitor Index

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    Times, heights and distances are the foundations of track and field, but it’s competition that really makes it a sport worth watching.

    We have developed a new Competitor Index (CDX) to rank the “top competitors”. Put simply, the CDX looks at how an athlete performs relative to their past performance. If an athlete performs better than expected, their score goes up. If worse, it goes down.

    Using 2017 Diamond League and London World Championships data as a baseline, the CDX has over 1,500 athletes across the Diamond League disciplines, with over 10,000 competition positions analysed and scored.

    You can dive straight into CDX and see what it’s all about here.

    How we figure this all out…

    When athletes compete in an event, an expected position (xPos) is calculated for each athlete in the field based on their current score.

    Then each athlete commits a “stake” of 10% of their score to this position. This will be “won” by the athlete that actually finishes in that position.

    For example, in the 100m hurdles 2019 Diamond League final in Brussels here was the expected top five and their stakes.

    If an athlete performs as expected…
    They will get their stake back and there will be no change (although there is a bonus for the winner).

    If an athlete performs better…
    They get their original stake back plus the stake from the position.

    If an athlete performs worse…
    They lose their original stake and gain the lower stake of their actual position.

    You can see this in our example of the women’s 2019 Diamond League 100m hurdles. The actual result played out like this, with the following shifts in points:

    Kendra Harrison finishes a respectable second, but she was expected to win. This means she loses her stake (426), but gains the second-place stake (Sharika Nelvis’ 307), resulting in a net loss of 119 points.

    Big wins for Danielle Williams and Nia Ali who make gains by performing better than expected. They get their original stakes back and then stakes for first and third respectively, boosting their scores.

    Note: marks don’t matter in the CDX
    The CDX algorithm is time/height/distance blind. It doesn’t care if an athlete breaks a world record; rather it’s about the quality of the field they have beaten. The data is comprised of Diamond League and World Championships results and favours athletes who compete regularly in these elite competitions.

    Other rules and caveats

    Expected winners gain a bonus
    The algorithm does not reward athletes who perform “as expected”; they will only receive their original stake back. That is, unless an expected winner wins. In this case, the winner receives their stake back and the equivalent of the second-place stake. This means the higher quality the beaten field, the bigger the points bonus. Check out Shaunae Miller-Uibo’s 200m chart as someone who is often the favourite to win and takes on consistently high-quality fields.

    Championships: the stakes are higher
    While Diamond League meets follow the 10% stake, stakes increase at World Championships and the Olympics. A World Championship final has stakes at 25%, while an Olympic final is a 30% stake. This means that significant points can exchange hands at the major moments.

    Diamond League data is not the whole picture
    The use of Diamond League data, the sport’s top-level meets outside of the major championships, has some consequences for the shape of the index. Notably, there are not rankings for the hammer or multi-eventers. We are open to suggestions on how to rectify this.

    World-class American athletes can also be late arrivals to the Diamond League circuit. Take a look at Sydney McLaughlin’s chart as she makes up for lost time, or Grant Holloway for a championship performance to give him a jolt up the list. The CDX also starts at a point in time. CJ Ujah had just become the 100m Diamond League winner in 2017 and began with a big score. He has consistently performed below par and has subsequently lost over 30% of his points since then. Many of these anomalies are starting to fade as more data is added.

    “New” athletes
    An athlete needs two performances in an event in the past two years to register on the CDX. If an athlete doesn’t have an event history on CDX, then they are given 1,000 points to start.

    “Write downs”
    Each year if an athlete has raced very little, under two times, they will receive a reduction in their points between 10-30%. This is a ranking that rewards competing regularly against quality fields. There have been no write downs from 2020 to reflect the restricted activity during the pandemic.

    With any project of this size, there will be errors. Sometimes a change of name or nationality can catch us out. It can even be an inconsistent spelling of an athlete’s name, or just a missed result.

    One of the best aspects of CDX is its cumulative nature. This does, however, make it very difficult to untangle old calculations that become the basis for numerous subsequent calculations. For this reason results will not be tampered with retrospectively if they subsequently change.

    Take a look at the charts and see what you make of it. Feedback is also welcome.

  7. Diamond League prize money rankings

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    An alternative Diamond League ranking based on how much prize money each athlete has collected, using the published sums for places 1st-8th. It excludes appearance fees, performance bonuses and any additional sums for places beyond 8th.

    Athlete rankings in


    Prize money in US dollars

  8. The greatest heptathletes

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    There are many different routes to a great heptathlon performance. Joyner-Kersee set her world record of 7291 at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and also won individual gold in her strongest event, the long jump. Ennis-Hill is the fastest hurdler the event has seen, while Thiam seems to be that rare heptathlete that thrives in the javelin. Explore the the strengths and weaknesses of the greatest heptathletes of all time.

    100m hurdles
    High jump
    Shot put
    Long jump

  9. Track and field body types

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    This chart uses the official data from the Rio 2016 Olympics, charting the heights and weights of athletes across different disciples. Use the selections below the chart to compare different events!

    All athletes

    Select your events to chart (maximum of six):

    Sprint Hurdles
    400m Hurdles
    Long Jump
    Triple Jump
    High Jump
    Pole Vault
    Shot Put
    Hammer Throw
    Javelin Throw
    Discus Throw
    Submit >

    Please note, any data of this kind will inevitably have errors and in some instances, we have used substitute data from or excluded the athlete. For the broad categories, we have included the steeplechase is in with the long distance category and hurdles in with the sprints. When sorting by events, an athlete will only appear in one event (for example, Usain Bolt only in the 100m not the 200m) to avoid duplication.

  10. How van Niekerk broke the 400m world record

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    Athletes will never view lane eight the same again after watching Wayde van Niekerk in Rio. The South African joined Eric Liddell as only the second Olympic champion to win from the outside lane in a world record time. Here’s how he got there.

    As usual, van Niekerk attacked the race hard from the start, using the best of his basic speed proven by a 100m personal best of 9.98 earlier this season (and his 19.94 from last year is no longer a true reflexion of his abilities at 200m). He reached 100m in 10.7, a time only bettered during a 400m by Tyson Gay (during 45.05 in 2010).

    van Niekerk’s 50m splits (seconds)

    Olympic final
    Against Johnson and Reynolds

    Quarter-milers usually reach their top speed in the 50-100m section, and Rio’s race was no exception. Van Niekerk as well as 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James reached about 10.6m/s speed, which is the fastest recorded. But van Niekerk had the edge here: he has the best top speed as recorded during his 100m PB (11.6m/s). This reserve of speed left him more for the final 300m of the race.

    Both Merritt and James managed their speed decline in the backstretch. Merritt covered this 100m section in 9.6, easily the fastest 100-200m section ever. His 20.4 time at the half-way point is inside the 200m Olympic qualification time! The best-known split was a hand-timed 20.6 by Fred Newhouse at 1972 US Trials for a 45.3 400m.

    At 300m, van Niekerk clocked 31.0—way faster than the best split ever, which was the 31.4 he achieved last year during the World champs final (final time: 43.48), tying Quincy Watts’ mark in 1992 Games (43.50). Incidentally, both van Niekerk and Merritt matched their PBs at the distance, 31.03 and 31.23 which were set in Kingston last June.

    As impressive as van Niekerk was in the homestretch, it was significantly slower than his best last 100m, 11.4 last year for his first sub-44 race (43.96 in Saint-Denis) but for once, he had went out much more cautiously (11.3 at 100m, 21.9 at 200m). The previous 400m world-record holder Butch Reynolds (43.29 in Zurich 1988) did 11.2.

    During his 43.18, Johnson was timed in 11.52. Although he had a huge speed reserve thanks to his 19.32 personal best (and then-world record) at 200m, he never ran the first half under 21 seconds. His best times, 21.22 in 1996 Olympics and 1999 World Champs, 21.26 at 1995 Worlds, 21.27 at 1996 US Trials, etc. makes me wonder whether he could have broken the 43 barrier. His 43.66 race in Lausanne with negative splits (21.9/21.8) was the most striking hint of his potential.

    van Niekerk’s progress, 100m splits (seconds)

    Van Niekerk’s season’s best progression analysis shows consistent tactics trends. Instead of displaying major improvement in a given part of the race, he shaved a few tenth out of every section, resulting in big changes overall.

    His trademark is his very long strides. Standing 1.83 tall, his stride step length at top speed is 2.70m during 100m, close only to what taller Usain Bolt (2.78m step length for 1.95m body height) and Christophe Lemaitre (2.73m for 1.90m) have done during their 100m respective bests (9.58 and 9.92). Interestingly, alongside his improvement in time there has been a slight reduction of amplitude during 400m race, but with a better maintenance in the homestretch.

    van Niekerk’s step length and frequency

    As a result, his step frequency has compensated the amplitude loss, working harder in the backstretch. I would warn about duplicating this pattern as each career trajectory, training and above all initial aptitudes vary. However it makes sense to say that since his step length was close to the human limits; he was not going to get much improvement there. In New York 2014, he covered the 400m lap in 160 steps, same as Reynolds did in Zurich, but Johnson’s 180 steps in Sevilla 1999 shows that there are many different paths to a world record.

    Correction: We initially stated that Fred Newhouse’s 20.6 split was achieved during a 44.1 400m time. Newhouse actually clocked 45.3 in that race.