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Could Usain Bolt Lose This Race?

Bolt has accepted Farah's challenge, and the two will race for charity. What Bolt might not realize is that this might be a race he could actually lose

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Farah and Bolt mimic one another’s classic poses. Image: stevelewarne

Usain Bolt might seem unbeatable, and, in most situations, he really is. He’s the first man to hold both the 100- and 200-meter world records, and his 9.58 second 100-meter dash in 2009 blew everybody else out of the water. But an unlikely contender has just challenged Bolt to an unlikely race—Mo Farah, the reigning 10,000 meter champion, has asked Bolt to race in in a 600-meter race.

The 600 isn’t an official distance in any of the major competitions. There isn’t even an official world record for the 600. But the best guess at the record is 1:12:81, set by Johnny Gray in the mid-1980s, according to Outside Online. And Farah isn’t an unworthy opponent to Bolt. While he’s best known for the 10,000 meter race, he recently ran a 3:28 1,500-meter—one of the fastest times ever recorded. Bolt is faster over shorter distances for sure, but that extra 200 meters tacked on to the standard 400 could do him in. He’s bigger and stronger, but that might be a disadvantage. Outside says the race might just be even:

When I plug Bolt’s personal best for the 400-meter and my estimate for Farah’s 800-meter “potential time” into the tables, they both score about 1,000 or 1,010 points, equivalent to about 1:14.9 for 600-meters.

Another thing Outside says to consider is their training regimens. Bolt probably doesn’t run (really run, not jog) more than 300 meters at a time. Farah, on the other hand, likely practices his sprints to get ready for those last, harrowing moments of his races. So while Farah will have run a 600 many times before, Bolt might not have in years, Outside suggests. But Bolt told the Telegraph that he was totally ready for 600 meters. “Six hundred for sure I can try because I’ve done 600 metres in training,” he said. But this didn’t phase the Telegraph‘s betting panel—all four members picked Farah to win:

David Moorcroft (former 5,000m world record holder): “I’ll take Mo over 600 metres, particularly if he goes for it the whole way, but I think it could be one of his toughest tactical challenges of the year.”

Darren Campbell (Olympic 200m silver medallist): “Mo can run 50 seconds for 400. Usain can run 45 seconds for 400. But when you take it up in distance it becomes very difficult for Bolt.”

Jason Gardener (Olympic 4 x 100m gold medallist): “I think I’ll go Mo Farah. He’s very quick and, from my experience as a sprinter, it would be a very big challenge for Bolt to hold him off.”

David Bedford (former 10,000m world record holder) “If I were a betting man, I’d be sticking a shed-load on Mo. We already know Mo can run 600 metres in 75 seconds. We don’t know if Usain could do that.”

Bolt has accepted Farah’s challenge, and the two will race for charity. What Bolt may not realize is that he could actually lose.

More from Smithsonian.com:

How Olympic Bodies Have Changed Over Time
The Olympics Are Over and Here Are the Best Infographics

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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