The recent Athletic World Champs in Moscow saw Mo Farah take a double in the 5000 and 10000m and Usain Bolt take a double with golds in both the 100 and 200m. The public has been crying out to see the 2 big names in athletics go head to head, Mo Farah registered an interest in a race for charity and Bolt recently agreed. So 2 big questions, what distance would they race and most importantly, who would win?!
So what distance would the 2 athletes be evenly matched? Bolt and Farah represent 2 extremes of physiology with very different characteristics, and it’s very difficult to know exactly where the crossover would occur.
Ross Tucker (science in sport, http://www.sportsscientists.com/2013/08/bolt-vs-farah-at-600m-extremes-meet-who.html) tries to explain with this graph:
This graph shows the aerobic and anaerobic contributions at different distances. So, for example, a typical male 100-meter runner gets about 21 percent of the energy he needs from processes that require oxygen, whereas a 3000-meter runner gets 86 percent of his energy aerobically.
The curve is a bit sigmoid (flat at the sides and steep in the middle). That tells us that there’s not much difference between 100 and 200 runners, and not much difference between 1500 and 3000 runners (and there would be even less difference between 5000 and 10,000 runners if we extended the graph out that far).
In the middle, though, there are greater differences between, say, 400 and 800 runners. That means the range of distances where Bolt and Farah would be evenly matched is relatively narrow: if you choose a distance that’s just slightly off, you may end up with one guy totally dominating over the other.
600m was a previously suggested distance and it does look to be very close the middle. But the 50-50 aerobic-anaerobic point looks to be a little shorter than 600. However, Mo’s best distances are much closer to 100% aerobic than Bolt’s are to 0%, so 50-50 isn’t necessarily the right break point anyway. And of course, energy systems aren’t the only factor that will come into play to determine the outcome.
So who knows!? But hopefully they’ll both find time in their hectic schedules to do this, it would be brilliant to watch.