Did you know that a 10 meter platform diver covers the last seven meters they fall in
less time than the first three?
Actually, this also applies to a falling rock… but rocks aren't nearly as good looking.
Anyway, by the time a diver (or rock) has fallen three meters, they're already going
about 17mph, and as they fall farther, they continue to pick up speed so that they cover
the remaining distance in less time.
But now suppose a world record sprinter races our olympic diver - that is, Usain Bolt starts
ten meters from the finish line, and the diver starts ten meters above it.
Who gets there first?
Well, Bolt's actual running time through the first 10 meters of his world record was 1.74
seconds, while a rock falling 10 meters takes only 1.43 seconds… so victory to the rock
by a slim margin.
But of course, an olympic diver is NOT a rock, and in particular they'll jump upwards off
the platform - this means they'll be in the air for an additional third of a second, or
a total of about 1.78 seconds before they hit the water.
So it's actually a close race, and Bolt wins the photo finish!
However, while we continue to be amazed by how fast Usain Bolt is, the fact that he could
beat a diver in free fall is more of a reminder that gravity, while a law of nature and thus
consistent, doesn't give you a blazing start.
That's why it's easiest to catch something in the first instant after you drop it.
If you wait even a second, it'll be 15 feet down and already traveling 20 miles per hour.