Oxford to London in 2 hours and 15 minutes

August 19, 2009

The fastest man in the world just got faster. At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Usain Bolt broke the tape in the final of the World Championships 100 metres in 9.58 seconds, shaving 0.11 seconds of his winning time in Beijing.

The Jamaican believes he can go faster still, perhaps as low as 9.4 if he keeps improving and avoids his favourite snack of chicken nuggets. Is he right? Can man boldly go faster and faster? In 1912 the 100 metre record stood at 10.6 seconds, so in less than a century athletes have chipped more than a second off the fastest time. But sport scientists and researchers in human performance suggest athletes, particularly in speed events, have begun to plateau out and in less than 20 years they will have hit the limits of their potential in most events.

In 20 years it is likely that the urban sprawl of London will have swallowed up Oxford. So it was prescient of executives at Oxford Airport to this week rebrand their airport London Oxford. Although the airport, which serves mostly businesspeople and private charters, is more than 60 miles from the centre of London, the benefits of being on the doorstep of the capitol and conveniently placed for both London and Birmingham were widely promoted in press reports.

The move has naturally excited a lot of interest (which is probably mission accomplished if you work in the airport’s marketing department) and got people ‘webchatting’ about their journeys flying to international airports which turned out to be a long way from their intended destination. By and large, people’s personal experience tends to shape their attitudes to the debate about whether Oxford should be included in the next edition of the A-Z of London.

For instance, if you have ever flown from the UK to Vienna airport and looked up from your in-flight magazine to find you have actually landed in Bratislava in a different country, you will probably regard the controversy as small beer. 

And as the airport website highlights, the crucial issue is not proximity to London but travel time. Trains take under an hour, driving time to the M25 is approximately 45 minutes and if your name is Usain Bolt and you are capable of sustaining a top speed of 28mph you can be in the West End in about 2 hours and 15 minutes. I am, of course, allowing for no headwind and a congestion-free sprint down the M4.