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Overconfident People Try to Beat World’s Best Sprinters

Christian Coleman is the reigning world champion in the men’s 100 meters. From time to time, strangers approach the 26-year-old Atlanta native with a proposition. He said, “People will look at me, like, ‘You’re Christian Coleman. Hey, you want to race?’ And I mean, like, we’re in the middle of the mall. It’s like, obviously not.”

It’s a remarkably common occurrence, top sprinters say. Against all odds, overconfident average citizens size up these singularly skilled and sculpted specimens and think they have a chance to win. The urge appears to be universal, spanning national boundaries and identities.

Karsten Warholm, the 26-year-old world record holder in the 400-meter hurdles, works out at an indoor public facility in Oslo, in his native Norway. Mr. Warholm recalled a training session when a man, not dressed in running clothes, asked him to race.

Mr. Warholm said, “I was like, ‘Sure,’ because I was going to do another run either way. Of course, I smoked him, obviously.” At the finish line, the man insisted he had a bad start. He wanted to race again, Mr. Warholm recalled, chuckling.

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