Denard versus Usain Bolt: Fight!

Submitted by Brian on August 13th, 2012 at 6:42 PM

Rival fans are having their lol over this Denard Robinson statement from media day:

"I've watched him run, and I'm pretty sure I can beat him in a 40-yard dash," Robinson said at Michigan's media day on Sunday. "I'd get a better start, and I could take him.

"At 60 yards, I'd be in trouble, and at 100 meters, he'd be gone, but I could get him in a 40."

But this sort of thing has come up before. Two years ago, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Bolt would race Titans running back Chris Johnson, who ran a 4.24 40 at the NFL draft combine. That turned out to be total fiction, but it got people thinking.

It's complicated. Most 40 times are bunk. Combine times like Johnson's are not directly comparable to track sprints since the NFL uses a system that eliminates reaction time, doesn't use starting blocks, and is on FieldTurf in cleats. Also, yards are not meters and converting between the two requires integration and stuff since 100 meter athletes are accelerating until about the 65 meter mark.

Benchmarks are available. Robinson dabbled in track early in his career, winning some dual meets in the 60-meter dash indoors:

That was a 6.81 60. When Bolt set the 100 M world record in Germany in 2009, he crossed 60 meters at 6.29  Denard would get smoked at 60 meters, but it's worth noting that he'd get smoked by less than he would in the 100, where Bolt's world record time is a full second faster than Denard's best high school effort. Bolt's second 50 meters is where he makes his money.

So what about the 40? In his world-record run, Bolt hit 40 meters at 4.64. Meters are longer than yards, so that time translates to the exact same 4.24 Johnson ran at the NFL combine, give or take tenth given the fact that 40s are not track sprints. Chris Johnson's lifetime best 60m is… 6.83*. So… plausible for Denard to be in Bolt's stratsophere?

No. Johnson's best time at 60 meters was good for third place. In a semifinal. At a regional collegiate track meet. Denard's fast. He's not Usain Bolt.

*[According to a guy on the internet. Milestat confirms the time, FWIW.]



August 14th, 2012 at 11:04 AM ^

Compare that to Denard's 4.32 second time. But assuming they are doing a combine-style 40, you would have to subtract Bolt's reaction time, but also add some time since it would be a standing start and not out of the blocks.

I think it's close, but very plausabile that Denard wins the race.


August 13th, 2012 at 9:51 PM ^

I remember reading an article a long time ago asking Anthony Carter about his speed, and he said QB Steve Smith was faster in a 10 yard sprint, that they were even at 20 yards, and AC had him beat at 40.  That showed that Smith was quicker out of the blocks, but AC was faster in top end. This result makes perfect sense for an option QB vs a receiver, given what each position does for the team.

I don't know if they still time Michigan's players over the shorter distances, but they did in Bo's day when they were running the option.

Comparing Denard to Bolt is like comparing a Formula 1 car to a dragster.  They're a different kind of fast.  One is faster, but can't turn worth a darn, the other doesn't have as much top end, but turns on a dime.


August 13th, 2012 at 10:06 PM ^

If you look at Bolts splits over the first 40 meters, he runs the first 10 meters in 1.74 (reaction time is removed here), 10m-20m in 0.990, 20-30 meters in 0.90.  At 30 meters, he's clocking in at 3.63 (with rounding) seconds.  40 meters comes out to 36.58 yards, so he has 6.58 yards left to go.

Bolt runs the 30-40m range in 0.86 so if you pro-rate that you wind up with 0.57 seconds, that's a total of 4.20 seconds at 40 yards with the reaction time removed.  This is a bit fast of an estimate since he is still accelerating at this point, but not a significant amount (about 0.6m per second per second).  Considering acceleration, we're probably looking at adding 1 or 2 hundredths.

However, the kicker here is that the 100m starts off of starting blocks while the 40 yard does not.  After poking around the internet some, I'm guessing, conservatively, starting blocks reduce your time by 0.2 seconds.  You can argue that they would have less impact on elite sprinters, so let's drop the estimate back down to 0.15.  Adding that back in (to the 4.2 estimate), we're looking at about a 4.35 40 yard dash as the optimistic estimate of Bolt's 40 yard time.

Other caveats.  I'm not sure whether there is a huge difference between running on a track with spikes and running on grass/turf with cleats (I would assume that track + spikes is the ideal situation, but it's not factored in here).  Also, I'm not a track runner so I can't say for certain whether there is any sort of pacing in a 100m race.  But on the other hand, I can't imagine a 9 second and change event being anything but an all out sprint.  Lastly, there probably some drag from "shoelaces flopping in the wind".


August 13th, 2012 at 10:54 PM ^

yes, mondo surface, the caliber of the Olympic surface plus the fastest lightest spikes available you bet it's faster than a pair of 12 oz cleats on nexturff. Puma Bolt spikes per eastbay weigh in at 5.8 oz about half the weight of a football cleat. Guarantee it. I've seen Denard in spikes and blocks and say he has a valid argument in a healthy perfect head up scenario. At 40 yards Denard would not be embarrassed. Rocket Ismail learned a bit of this 'fast' as he was darting downfield on kick returns he ran a stellar 60m race indoors, at the time it was the fourth fastest time that year. Then he went to the Penn Relays and ran the 100m...never even came close to making the finals.

Guys like Bolt are well suited to the 100/200 because they are long striders with superior fast twitch muscles. He can cover a lot of ground once he gets up to speed. Unquestoinably it would be the perfect day if Denard could take him in the 40...but he would have a legit shot.


August 13th, 2012 at 11:10 PM ^

And Bolt has a very good 60m split at 6.29s. Not that Denard isn't fast, b/c of course he is, but in this whole discussion, there's little disagreement that after a certain distance, maybe after 20m or so because many are convinced that Denard would out-accelerate Bolt at the start, Bolt would be either catching up to or distancing himself from Denard. So, really the bottomline is that Bolt is faster than Denard if we're to look at their top speeds and people are just looking for ways to make Denard look good in this comparison. If Denard is faster than Bolt to 40 yds, that means dozens of people probably are, and that's just like trying to look for a moral victory considering what Bolt would do to them after that distance. 


August 14th, 2012 at 12:26 PM ^

Sure, Denard is fast, but didn't we all come to the conclusion a few years back that Tate Forcier has better "football speed"?  Maybe we should have Tate and Usain race in full pads within a football game?

We do know that Bolt would destroy Sam McGuffie in a race though- Sam just doesn't have that top-end speed.


August 14th, 2012 at 2:44 PM ^

It was a little facetious for Denard to say something like this, but it was obviously tongue-in-cheek.  That said, all of the numbers mentioned above and all the supposed conditions aside, a race between Bolt and Denard would be reasonably close, and depending on conditions Denard might be able to catch him over 40 yards.  People keep pointing to Bolt's WR time, but that was set 3 years ago and has not approach it since.  I mean, we are talking about small-scale differences, but here is a nice little chart outlining his 100m times over the years he's been a professional.

So while we are talking about a .4-ish change over the past couple of years, he's definitely slowing down a bit as he ages.  And as has been noted in numerous interviews, Bolt struggles to get up to speed quickly; he earns his money on the last 50m, and oftentimes is a little back at the start.  So in a 40-yard dash, where getting off the blocks is essential, it isn't crazy to imagine Denard at least keeping pace.

But all that said, it sure is a fun mental exercise.