O, the glorious Olympics! Every 4 years, we settle onto our couches and get ready to feast our eyes on the best athletes in the world performing incredible feats of strength and skill. They leap, kick, pounce, flip, and glide with almost effortless grace.
The athletes make it look so easy. Almost too easy. Watching them, beer in hand, I inevitably get a little caught up and end up making some embarrassing statement like, “I bet I could do that if I trained for 4 years.”
No, I couldn’t. (Obviously.) I wouldn’t have the diligence and work ethic, not to mention my complete lack of athletic ability. But sitting there, munching on Cheetos and watching the best athletes in the world make it look so effortless, I forget all that.
Fortunately, those that know me know that I’ve also come up with a solution to the problem of my own creation. For years, I've been saying that the Olympics should add an “Average Joe” to each competition so that the viewers can have an everyday reference point and put all that brazen bar talk to rest.
Sure, the idea needs some tweaking. For some events that would be straight up dangerous. Hello, shooting? Diving? Boxing? Anything in gymnastics?
But other events would be absolutely fantastic, hilarious, and inevitable internet memes. How great would it also be to see some poor Joe Schmoe, who was just on his way to the grocery store running alongside Usain Bolt?
Until the Olympics decide to implement my spectacular albeit unconventional idea, I’ve run the numbers and this is how the Average Joe would do in the pool and on the track alongside the Olympics' greatest athletes.
Let’s take a dip
First, let’s start at the pool. For our simulation, we'll look at the two best and biggest names in swimming: Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 2 weeks, I’ll fill you in. Katie has been absolutely unbeatable in the pool this Olympics. She has medaled in each event that she’s competed in, collecting 3 individual golds and 1 silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay. She’s expected to collect another in her signature event, the 800m freestyle tonight. You could have to have been comatose or hiding in a bomb shelter for the past 15 years and you would still know who Michael Phelps is, but I’ll write you a quick refresher anyway. He’s the most decorated Olympian of all time, competing in his 5th Olympics. So far his medal count is up to 26, including 22 golds, and he’ll probably collect lucky #27 tonight in the 100m butterfly.
I took their fastest times on the 200m freestyle to compare to our poor average friend we’ll call ‘Joe.’ Now, it’s important to keep in mind that the 200m freestyle is neither of these athlete’s premier event. Phelps specializes in the butterfly and Ledecky in longer distances, but picking a stroke like the butterfly or going any longer than 200m seemed completely unrealistic and insane for our friend, Joe. So just remember that some past Olympic swimmers could potentially have gone even faster than our fierce competitors Michael and Katie here.
We have a big pool, so I also included a competitive high schooler in the mix. That way we have an additional reference point and Joe doesn’t get completely embarrassed alone. For our high schooler’s times, I looked at USA Swimming’s motivational standards for different age groups. A fairly competitive high school swimmer would likely finish in between 2:15-2:30 minutes, depending on age and gender.
As expected, the results would be pretty hilarious. As usual, Michael would come in gold with Katie halfway through her final lap. She would finish 11 seconds behind Michael. Our high school swimmer would still be chugging along, likely finishing up his 3rd lap while Michael was getting out of the pool. While Poor Joe would be just ending his 2nd lap with more than half of the race to go.
In case you needed me to state the obvious, this would be an insane time between each finisher. Yesterday, Michael Phelps finished a race body lengths ahead of the next finisher, but it was still only a 2 second difference in time between wall touches. For another example, this poor Ethiopian swimmer finished 17 seconds and half a lap behind the top finisher in his 100m heat, and the Twitterverse gave him the unfortunate nickname of Robel the Whale. Imagine what they would say about poor Joe!
The average swimmer swims at about 2 mph, or less than half of Michael Phelps’s speed. By the time Joe would finish the race, Michael could have finger-wagged, kissed Boomer on the forehead, and given a post-race interview.
From surf to turf
The other event I was super curious about was sprinting. You see the runners pumping their legs at full speed to go around the track, but it’s really hard to tell how fast they are going, because you only have other world-class sprinters for reference. That’s where Joe comes in.
For this little experiment we’re pitting Joe up against the fastest man in the world Usain Bolt and America’s track darling Allyson Felix. You know Usain for his winning pointing pose, which he gets to do oh-so often, because he holds the 100m and 200m world records and has swept the past 2 Olympics, winning a total of 6 golds in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay. He’s hoping for a triple three-peat this Olympic games. Allyson Felix is one of America’s track staples. She is the reigning gold medalist in the 200m, and she won silver in the 2 Olympic games before that. She has also won gold in the 4x100 and 4x400m relay. You’ll see her competing in the 200m, 400m, and 4x400m relay next week.
In this race, we’re putting each of the runners up in their top event and taking their fastest record times. In Usain’s world record 200m race, he finished in a blazing 19.19 seconds and averaged 23.3 mph. So he would easily finish our race first and be pointing and dancing samba on the sidelines.
This is where things get a little interesting. According to USA Track and Field’s qualifying times for high school athletes, a competitive male high schooler would actually come in second. He would finish in about 21 seconds and run about 21.3 miles per hour, just barely edging out Olympian Allyson Felix. But even at a 21-second time, he would finish nearly half a second behind the men’s last place finisher of the 2012 London Olympics 200m Finals. A lifetime, in sprinter years.
Allyson’s fastest 200m time was 21.69 seconds, which puts her at a speedy 20.6mph. Just behind our male high schooler, but a full 2-3 seconds faster than a competitive female high school sprinter.
And where is our poor friend Joe? Left in the dust. According to the National Council on Strength and Fitness, the average person can run at about 15 mph for short distances. At that speed, he would only be at the 128.6m mark when Usain finished the race, and would be at the 145m mark when Allyson finished.
I know what you’re thinking… based on this little thought experiment, it looks like adding an average person to each of these events would be a massive waste of time. You’re right. It would virtually double the time of each race. But it’s also totally worth it. You just need to imagine the payoff and joy of watching some chubby rando doing forward rolls on the floor exercise next to Simone Biles. TV programming gold, if you ask me.
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