Yesterday, 100m world record holder Usain Bolt tied the NFL Combine 40 record in sweat pants and tennis shoes after what appears to be a few months of partying, and likely no running-specific training for almost two years. 

London 2017

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This sparked the argument: are football players as fast as world-class track athletes? The short answer is no, and the long answer is still no, but we’ve broken down why this is true. 

Lots of football players begins their careers in track and field. They’re strong high school runners who likely used their track training to help them on the field. These young players could have become really talented track runners, especially those like Todd Gurley or Phillip Dorset who ran 10.7 and 10.5 respectively in high school, but they shifted their focus. For context, Aaron Brown holds the Canadian U18 100m record at 10.46 and he’s currently one of the world’s strongest sprinters. Once football players strop training for track and field, and start focusing their energy on other things, they lose their edge on the track.

Credit: Claus Andersen. Alicia Brown, coached by Bob Westman.

Being a good 100m runner is about not just pure speed, but the ability to hold that speed. Lots of football players can accelerate very well, but struggle when it comes to speed maintenance over the distance. Bob Westman is the sprints coach at the University of Toronto. He’s coached on several national teams and helped athletes make it to the Olympics. Westman says that the amount of running-specific time needed to reach world-class sprinting levels is hugely underestimated. “These football guys are really talented athletes but they’re more like decathletes than sprinters. The biggest difference in training is time dedicated to straight-line speed. They only spend several months working on that, whereas with sprinters, it’s all they do.” It can take years to get a time down from 10.5 to 10 flat over 100 metres. 

Westman continues, “There was a quarterback named Robert Griffin III who was a really talented 400m hurdler. He ran for Baylor, but it’s very rare to see someone who can be competitive at a similar level in both sports.” Griffin won the Heisman trophy in 2011.

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