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How can you outrun Usain Bolt? Get yourself some buffalos

Did India’s Srinivas Gowda really beat the 100m world record holder? Only if you don’t count his animal assistants

How can you outrun Usain Bolt? Get yourself some buffalos
Buffalo stance … Srinivas Gowda and his animals set their record time. Photograph: Rathan Barady/AFP via Getty

It made for a good story, even if it was best filed under fake news. Indian man runs faster than Usain Bolt, claimed the headlines, after a construction worker sprinted 142 metres in 13.42 seconds at a buffalo-racing festival in Aikala.

Srinivas Gowda, 28, clocked 9.55 seconds for a 100m section of the course, which ran through a wet paddy field. On the surface, that made the 28-year-old faster than Bolt, whose 100m world record is 9.58 seconds.

Except, of course, it didn’t, given Bolt ran his time without the aid of two buffalo dragging him along. How fast would Gowda be without them?

“In the 100m, he can run under 11 seconds,” says Ángel David Rodríguez, the former Spanish 100m record holder, who has a best of 10.14. “This guy is fast, his body is strong, but put simply, buffalo are faster than humans so his job is to keep them straight and not fall down.”

Many in athletics are growing tired of such misdirection in the media. “Every month, there’s a new story about these stupid things,” says Pierre-Jean Vazel, a French expert who coached Olusoji Fasuba, a 9.85-second 100m sprinter. Vazel says the mechanism that allowed Gowda to hit such speeds is used by many sprinters, with Portugal’s Francis Obikwelu clocking a 9.1-second 100m in training before the 2008 Olympics when tethered to an elastic pulley device. Bolt’s top speed is 44 kilometres per hour, but French sprinter Jimmy Vicaut hit 47kph in training when pulled by an electronic device.

“For me this is a fun story about Indian culture, but it’s not an athletics story,” says Rodriguez.

A similar attention-grabbing story did the rounds on Tuesday night after Sky Italia reported Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland had covered 60 metres in 6.64 seconds during a Champions League game against Paris Saint-Germain, close to Christian Coleman’s 60m world record of 6.34. But Haaland, of course, ran his time with a running start, where the clock was started when he was already in motion, unlike in 100m races where athletes begin from a stationary position in the blocks. “The way they measure footballers on the field is ridiculous,” says Vazel. “To compare directly with Bolt makes no sense.”With a running start, elite sprinters can register absurd times, as evidenced by Jamaica’s Asafa Powell clocking an 8.68-second 100m during the 4x100m relay at the Beijing Olympics.

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