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Average speed during Olympic Records in athletic events (in km/h) 1980-2016

When comparing the average speeds across athletics events, the 4x100 meter relay is the fastest event for both men and women. When setting the Olympic Records in 2012, Jamaica's men's team ran at over 39km/h throughout the event, while the USA's women's team ran at over 35 km/h. Both of these speeds are more than 1km/h faster than those recorded in the individual 100m sprints; the reason for this is that only the first relay runner starts from a stationary position, while the other three runners are able to build up momentum (usually reaching speeds close to their top speed) before starting their own leg. For example, when Jamaica set the world record in the 4x100m relay in 2015, Usain Bolt ran the final leg of the race in 8.65 seconds; almost a full second faster than his world record in the 100m sprint.

Hurdles

Another possibly surprising result is in the men's 110m Hurdles, where Xiang Liu's speed in 2004 was actually slower than that of Kevin Young in the 400m hurdles in 1992. The reasons for this are the difference in heights of the hurdles and the tighter spaces between them, which prevent athletes from maintaining their top speed in the 110m event. In contrast to this, the women's 100m hurdles was more than 1km/h faster than in the women's 400m hurdles, as the hurdle measurements are disproportionally smaller in comparison to the men's measurements (the difference between men's sprint and 400m hurdles is more than double the difference between the women's).

Speeds in other events

When compared to other Olympic sports, athletic sprinting events are still some of the fastest on display. When compared to the 50m Freestyle events (the fastest swimming events), the Olympic records were set at speeds of 8.45 and 7.48 km/h for men and women respectively; just slightly over half of the speeds recorded in the 20km race walks. In individual Kayak sprints, the men and women's records for the 200m events were set with average speeds of 20.5 and 18.1 km/ respectively, although the fastest individual time trials in cycling (now discontinued) saw speeds of almost 60 or 54 km/h for men and women respectively. In the Winter Olympics, Alpine Skiing, Bobsled and Luge events can see athletes reaching top speeds of around 150km/h. While these events relate to the speed at which the athletes move, other Summer Olympic sports can see objects move at blistering speeds, with badminton shuttlecocks often moving at over 300km/h, and tennis or golf balls can reach speeds exceeding 250 km/h in competitive environments.

Average speed maintained while setting Olympic Records in athletic events from 1980 to 2016

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Source

Release date

May 2020

Region

Worldwide

Survey time period

1980 to 2016

Supplementary notes

Please note that the figures in the graph are not the top speeds reached by the competitors, but rather their average speeds throughout the duration of the event.

The original men's Olympic Records are as follows:
4x100m: Jamaica, 2012 - 36.84 seconds
100m: Usain Bolt (Jamaica), 2012 - 9.63 seconds
200m: Usain Bolt (Jamaica), 2008 - 19.3 seconds
400m: Wayde Van Niekerk (South Africa), 2016 - 43.03 seconds
4x400m: USA, 2008 - 175.39 seconds
400m Hurdles: Kevin Young (US), 1992 - 46.78 seconds
110m Hurdles: Xiang Liu (China), 2004 - 12.91 seconds
800m: David Rudisha (Kenya), 2012 -100.91 seconds
1,500m: Noah Ngeny (Kenya), 2000 - 212.07 seconds
5,000m: Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia), 2008 - 12 minutes, 57.82 seconds
3,000m Steeplechase: Conseslus Kiproto (Kenya), 2016 - 8 minutes, 3.28 seconds
10,000m: Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia), 2008 - 27 minutes, 1.17 seconds
Marathon: Samuel Kamau Wanjiru (Kenya), 2008 - 126 minutes, 32 seconds
20km Race Walk: Ding Chen (China), 2012 - 78 minutes 46 seconds
50km Race Walk: Jared Tallent (Australia), 2012 - 216 minutes, 53 seconds

The original women's Olympic Records are as follows:
4x100m: USA, 2012 - 40.82 seconds
100m: Florence Griffith-Joyner (US), 1988 - 10.62 seconds
200m: Florence Griffith-Joyner (US), 1988 - 21.34 seconds
400m: Marie-José Perec (France), 1996 - 48.25
4x400m: Soviet Union, 1988 - 195.17 seconds
400m Hurdles: Melaina Walker (Jamaica), 2008 - 52.64 seconds
100m Hurdles: Sally Pearson (Australia), 2012 - 12.35 seconds
800m: Nadezhda Olizarenko (Soviet Union), 1980 - 113.43 seconds
1,500m: Paula Ivan (Romania), 1988 - 233.96 seconds
5,000m: Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot (Kenya), 2016 - 14 minutes, 26.17 seconds
3,000m Steeplechase: Gulnara Samitova-Galkina (Russia), 2008 - 8 minutes, 58.81 seconds
10,000m: Almaz Ayana (Ethiopia) 2016 - 29 minutes, 17.45 seconds
Marathon: Tiki Gelana (Ethiopia) 2012 - 143 minutes, 7 seconds
20km Race Walk: Yelena Lashmanova (Russia), 2012 - 85 minutes, 2 seconds

All speeds, when converted into miles per hour, are as follows:
4x100m: 24.29 (m), 21.92 (w)
100m: 23.23 (m), 21.07 (w)
200m: 23.19 (m), 20.97 (w)
400m: 20.8 (m), 18.55 (w)
4x400m: 20.41 (m), 18.34 (w)
400m Hurdles: 19.13 (m), 17 (w)
110m/100m Hurdles: 19.06 (m), 18.12 (w)
800m: 17.74 (m), 15.78 (w)
1,500m: 15.83 (m), 14.34 (w)
5,000m: 14.38 (m), 12.92 (w)
3,000m Steeplechase: 13.89 (m), 12.46 (w)
10,000m: 13.8 (m), 12.73 (w)
Marathon: 12.44 (m), 10.99 (w)
20km Race Walk: 9.47 (m), 8.77 (w)
50km Race Walk: 8.6 (m)

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