ESPN reporter Max Kellerman, host of The First Take, spoke about track and field on his show in early August. The topic of conversation was Usain Bolt being named the “most electric athlete in history.” Kellerman didn’t agree with this take, and his primary reason was that track and field isn’t a true test of overall athleticism, because “It only tests your fast twitchies, right?”

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Everything Kellerman got wrong about track

“If the whole sport were clean, he [Bolt] would still be the fastest guy.” Well, Bolt is still the fastest guy. His world records have remained untouched since his retirement in 2016. With the exception of a couple Diamond League meet records, which have been taken by American Noah Lyles, nearly every one of Bolt’s records stand. He still holds both the 100m and 200m world records.

“It [track] really only tests your fast twitchies.” Twitchies isn’t a word we’ve come across, but we can only assume that Kellerman means fast twitch muscle fibres. Track has an enormous range of events that test both aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Usain Bolt
Photo: Team Jamaica

“That’s an athletic ability, but it’s only one specific kind. We don’t know his [Bolt] manual dexterity, we don’t know his ability to think on the fly.” It is true that track doesn’t require much manual dexterity, but to suggest that the sport doesn’t require thought in races is the furthest thing from the truth. Anyone who’s ever run a race, sprints included, knows that a million things run through your mind from point A to point B.

“Track and field stars are usually failed football and basketball players.” Track and field athletes have to be a special combination of physically fit and technically perfect, and to achieve this level of perfection takes years. While many track runners were multi-sport athletes in their younger years, that was likely part of healthy physical development as opposed to a failed quest for basketball greatness.

Some runners chose track over other sports because they were naturally more gifted at running or liked it better, as opposed to track being their second choice after, as Kellerman seems to see it, a better sport.

“The best athletes go into basketball and football.” This is frustrating for so many athletes, not just runners. To say that football and basketball players are the best athletes of any sport shows a limited scope of sporting knowledge and an under-appreciation for sport at large.

The few points Kellerman got right

Football and basketball are where the money is. This is true, relative to track and field. Many runners compete unsponsored, and even sponsored athletes may make only a couple of thousand dollars a year plus gear. At the very top, runners make money, but second- and third-tier runners are usually working other jobs on top of training. People don’t do track and field for the money, they do it because they love it.

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While Kellerman does acknowledge that the 100m dash is his favourite Olympic event, he doesn’t seem to give track and field credit as a sport that’s worthwhile beyond the Olympics.

What Kellerman fails to acknowledge is that it takes special talent and extremely hard work to make an electric Olympic 100m final. Watching Bolt or Lyles or Shaunae Miller-Uibo (the Bahamian 200m star) run looks completely different than watching anyone else run. This is because these aren’t athletes who settled for running, these are athletes who love their sport and refined their craft–just like the best basketball and football players.

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