How Badly Would Usain Bolt Destroy the Best Sprinter of 1896? A Slate Interactive.

Scenes from the Olympics.
July 26 2012 6:45 AM

How Badly Would Usain Bolt Destroy the Best Sprinter of 1896?

The champs of bygone Olympics take on today’s best sprinters, jumpers, throwers, and swimmers—a Slate interactive.

Jamaica's Usain Bolt celebrates winning the men's 200m final during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 20, 2008.
Jamaica's Usain Bolt celebrates winning the men's 200-meter final at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images.

Compared with the athletes in the first modern Olympics, today’s gold medalists can run faster, swim stronger, and jump and throw farther. But how slow and weak were the champions of yore compared with the best of the 21st century? In which events could the cream of the crop from bygone eras keep up against their modern counterparts?

In the visualizations below, we’ve pitted the likes of Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser against winners from olden times. The eight contestants in each of our four events—the 100-meter dash, swimming’s 100-meter freestyle, the long jump, and the discus—were selected with an eye towards bringing together athletes from all different Olympic eras. Chariots of Fire’s Harold Abrahams—the 100-meter gold medalist in 1924—is at the starting line, as is the late-20th-century great Carl Lewis. We’ve also decided to open our doors to cheaters: Marion Jones (who was stripped of her medals from the 2000 Games), Barbara Krause (who was given performance enhancers by her East German coaches), and their doping brethren are welcome here.

Click “Start” to see how these gold-medal winners compare when competing side by side. Let the simulated games begin!

Men's 100-meter dash

Start!
Again!
Thomas Burke (USA), 1896

#

8

12.00

Archie Hahn (USA), 1904

#

7

11.00

Harold Abrahams (Great Britain), 1924

#

6

10.60

Jesse Owens (USA), 1936

#

5

10.30

Valery Borzov (USSR), 1972

#

4

10.14

Donovan Bailey (Canada), 1996

#

2

9.84

Justin Gatlin (USA), 2004

#

3

9.85

Usain Bolt (Jamaica), 2008

#

1

9.69

Women's 100-meter dash

Start!
Again!
Elizabeth Robinson (USA), 1928

#

8

12.20

Fanny Blankers-Koen (Netherlands), 1948

#

7

11.90

Wilma Rudolph (USA), 1960

#

5

11.00

Renate Stecher (East Germany), 1972

#

6

11.07

Evelyn Ashford (USA), 1984

#

4

10.97

Florence Griffith-Joyner (USA), 1988

#

1

10.54

Marion Jones (USA), 2000

#

2

10.75

Shelly-ann Fraser (Jamaica), 2008

#

3

10.78

Men's 100-meter freestyle

Start!
Again!
Alfred Hajos (Hungary), 1896

#

8

1:22.20

Charles Daniels (USA), 1906

#

7

1:13.00

John Weissmuller (USA), 1924

#

6

0:59.00

Mark Spitz (USA), 1972

#

5

0:51.22

Rowdy Gaines (USA), 1984

#

4

0:49.80

Alexander Popov (Unified Team), 1992

#

3

0:49.02

Pieter van den Hoogenband (Netherlands), 2004

#

2

0:48.17

Alain Bernard (France), 2008

#

1

0:47.21

Women's 100-meter freestyle

Start!
Again!
Fanny Durack (Australia), 1912

#

8

1:22.20

Ethelda Bleibtrey (USA), 1920

#

7

1:13.60

Hendrika Mastenbroek (Netherlands), 1936

#

6

1:05.90

Dawn Fraser (Australia), 1964

#

5

0:59.50

Barbara Krause (East Germany), 1980

#

4

0:54.79

Zhuang Yong (China), 1992

#

3

0:54.64

Jodie Henry (Australia), 2004

#

2

0:53.84

Britta Steffen (Germany), 2008

#

1

0:53.12

Men's discus

Start!
Again!
Robert Garrett (USA), 1896

#

8

95' 7.5"

Rudolf Bauer (Hungary), 1900

#

7

118' 2.875"

Martin Sheridan (USA), 1908

#

6

134' 2"

Clarence Houser (USA), 1928

#

5

155' 2.8"

Al Oerter (USA), 1968

#

4

212' 6"

Jurgen Schult (East Germany), 1988

#

3

225' 9.25"

Virgilijus Alekna (Lithuania), 2004

#

1

229' 3.57"

Gerd Kanter (Estonia), 2008

#

2

225' 9.44"

Women's discus

Start!
Again!
Helena Konopacka (Poland), 1928

#

8

129' 11.875"

Lillian Copeland (USA), 1932

#

7

133' 2"

Gisela Mauermayer (Germany), 1936

#

6

156' 3.175"

Lia Manoliu (Romania), 1968

#

5

191' 2.5"

Faina Melnik (USSR), 1972

#

3

218' 7"

Martina Hellmann (East Germany), 1988

#

2

237' 2.25"

Ellina Zvereva (Belarus), 2000

#

1

244' 5"

Stephanie Brown Trafton (USA), 2008

#

4

212' 4.81"

Men's long jump

Start!
Again!
Ellery Clark (USA), 1896

#

8

20' 9.75"

Alvin Kraenzlein (USA), 1900

#

6

23' 6.875"

William Petterssen (Sweden), 1920

#

7

23' 5.5"

Bob Beamon (USA), 1968

#

1

29' 2.5"

Carl Lewis (USA), 1988

#

2

28' 7.25"

Carl Lewis (USA), 1996

#

4

27' 10.75"

Dwight Phillips (USA), 2004

#

3

28' 2.19"

Irving Saladino (Panama), 2008

#

5

27' 4.34"

Women's long jump

Start!
Again!
Olga Gyarmati (Hungary), 1948

#

8

18' 8.25"

Yvette Williams (New Zealand), 1952

#

7

20' 5.75"

Viorica Viscopoleanu (Romania), 1968

#

6

22' 4.5"

Tatyana Kolpakova (USSR), 1980

#

4

23' 2"

Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA), 1988

#

1

24' 3.5"

Heike Drechsler (Germany), 1992

#

2

23' 5.25"

Chioma Ajunwa (Nigeria), 1996

#

3

23' 4.5"

Maurren Higa Maggi (Brazil), 2008

#

5

23' 1.16"

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the London Olympics.

Chris Kirk is Slate's interactives editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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