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No, an Indian sprinter didn’t break Usain Bolt’s 100m record

Some news outlets have claimed that a man in India beat the 100m world record, but he had a little help

In the last few days you might have seen news reports that Srinivas Gowda, a man from India, can run 100 metres faster than Usain Bolt‘s world record of 9.58 seconds. While it’s true that Gowda covered 100 metres in 9.55 seconds in a race last weekend, he had the benefit of being pulled along by a pair of buffaloes.

You’re probably wondering why there were a couple of buffaloes on the race course. Well, Gowda wasn’t running a basic 100m, he was competing in a sport called Kambala, an Indian event in which racers sprint 142 metres through paddy fields alongside two buffaloes.

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Gowda’s time for the full race was 13.42 seconds, and it was estimated that he passed the 100 metre mark in 9.55 seconds, 0.03 seconds faster than Bolt’s record. Running through a wet field and ushering along two enormous animals is probably very difficult, and Gowda’s 9.55  is an incredibly athletic feat, but it’s much easier to reach record-breaking speeds when something is towing you along.

Usain Bolt
Photo: Team Jamaica

Ángel David Rodríguez, the former Spanish record-holder in the 100m, spoke to The Guardian about Gowda’s performance.

“This guy is fast, his body is strong,” Rodríguez said, “but put simply, buffalo are faster than humans so his job is to keep them straight and not fall down.”

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Despite this important distinction between track and Kambala racing, Kiren Rijiju, India’s sports minister, invited Gowda to compete at the country’s Olympic trials. Gowda declined the offer, however, telling BBC Hindi that he will focus on Kambala instead of track and the Olympics.

“I am used to running with buffalo in the paddy fields,” he said.

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Comparisons between track records and times run by athletes in other sports are not uncommon in the media. Just this week Norwegian soccer player Erling Haaland has made the news after he ran 60 metres in 6.64 seconds in a game on Tuesday, 0.3 seconds behind Christian Coleman‘s 6.34-second 60m world record.

Christian Coleman. Photo: Instagram

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As with Gowda’s run, Haaland had an advantage over track athletes. He didn’t have any buffaloes dragging him along (that would probably result in a penalty of some kind in soccer), but he did have a running start, giving him time to reach his maximum speed before the clock started to record his 60-metre sprint. Still an impressive run, of course, just like Gowda’s, but not the same as sprinting off the starting blocks.

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