One of the N.F.L.’s Fastest Is Among the Slowest on the Track

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Nor did Metcalf challenge the national high school record of 10.00 seconds, often considered the threshold for world-class speed. Most importantly, he did not reach his goal of 10.05 seconds, the time needed to gain automatic entry into the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore.

Other competitors welcomed Metcalf to the meet held at Mt. San Antonio College. For his football celebrity, which drew interest to a sport that gains little attention apart from the Olympics. For his willingness to compete against professional sprinters. And for the lesson delivered that running 100 meters is a far more technical endeavor than simply running as fast as you can from the start line to the finish line.

“Fans have been egging this on for a long time, that our speeds are comparable; they’re not,” said Noah Lyles, who could potentially win the 100 meters (personal best 9.86 seconds) and 200 meters at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics in July and August.

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Sure, there have been some extremely fast football players. Most notably, Bob Hayes, a Hall of Fame receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, won the 100 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. But most football players “don’t have any clue” about elite sprinting, said Mike Rodgers, a 2016 Olympian and a gold medalist on the United States 4×100-meter relay team at the 2019 world track and field championships.

Football players seldom run the length of the field in a straight line. And their 40-yard dash times — Metcalf ran that distance in 4.33 seconds at the 2019 N.F.L. combine for prospective players — are widely discounted in track circles. There is no reaction to a starting gun to precisely gauge speed. At a fan exhibit at the 2019 Super Bowl, the retired Bolt casually matched the N.F.L. combine record of 4.22 seconds while running in sweats and sneakers.

Metcalf, who is 6-feet-4 inches and weighs 229 pounds, was a superb hurdler in high school, but did not run track at the University of Mississippi. His lack of formal training at 100 meters was evident on Sunday.

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“There is as much strategy running 100 meters as running a marathon,” Lyles said.

No one can accelerate for a full 100 meters. Speed must be distributed strategically. The mechanics of the event require a low, explosive start from the blocks. Sprinters must avoid popping up too quickly and losing momentum or braking by striking the ground too far in front of their bodies.

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