The fastest man in history is Usain Bolt, who famously ran the 100-meter sprint in 9.58 seconds at the age of 23. His record is more than one-tenth of a second faster than the next highest competitor, a distinction that matters when we’re talking about a race that’s over in less time than it takes for most of us to, say, find our keys, unlock the door, and step inside the house. It’s impossible to know when—or even if—Bolt’s superhumanly quick world record in the event will ever be broken. But one name to watch when it comes to potential candidates to do it is Matthew Boling, the Houston teen who earned himself the nickname “White Lightning” after completing the dash in a staggering 9.98 seconds.
— Matthew Boling (@matthew_boling1) April 28, 2019
Boling’s speed is incredible—watching an athlete break away from the pack the way that he does can almost make a person forget that all of the other people on the track are also extremely fast runners and borderline-elite athletes—and the 18-year-old sprinter is still years away from his peak. He’s currently the fastest high school sprinter in the country, and is the first high schooler to break the 10-second barrier.
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The 9.98 seconds in which he ran the race at the Challenger Columbia Stadium in Webster doesn’t officially go in the books as a sub-10 second run, however. The 4.2 mph tailwind at the venue disqualifies it from the record books—but at 18, Boling has plenty of future opportunities to officially break the 10-second barrier.
So how fast is he? To run the 100 meters in 9.98 seconds is to average a land speed of 22.4 mph (roughly one mph slower than Bolt’s record-breaking run), but even thinking of it in those terms understates his accomplishment. At his peak, Boling probably hit closer to 26 mph, based on a graph analyzing Bolt’s peak land speed. That would mean that, if he were getting chased by a bear, Boling wouldn’t have to climb a tree—he could just outrun the son of a gun.
Sprinters tend to start hitting their peak around the age of 23, which works out well for Boling. He’ll be eligible for the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo, but with a little less pressure than most hot-shot hopefuls—he won’t be expected to be at peak form until the 2024 games in Paris.
Running this fast at Boling’s age isn’t unprecedented, but it’s rare. The youngest person to enter the record books having broken the 10-second barrier is a fellow Texan—former Baylor sprinter Trayvon Bromell, who ran a 9.84-second dash in 2014, just a month shy of his 19th birthday. That’s the current world record for the U-20 competition, and it might give Boling a more immediate goal than the records that are still years away.
Boling will attend the University of Georgia in the fall, before he heads off to Tokyo to compete. The 2020 Olympics are a ways off, and—as per usual—there are likely to be a lot of Texans to cheer for. But the kid they’re calling “White Lightning” sure looks likely to be among them.