Monday, 17 August 2009

9.58 Seconds...

I remember when the LA Olympics were held in 1984, the world record for the 100m stood at 9.93 seconds. Last night at the fastest 100m ever run in history at the Berlin World championships, 5 sprinters finished in a time of 9.93 seconds or better. The pick of the bunch- as predicted in the last post from 2 days ago- was Usain Bolt in an astounding time of 9.58 seconds. Not long ago bio-mechanists thought such a time was not attainable by humans.

Bolt's astonishing feat could be judged by Tyson Gay- who in coming second in a US record of 9.71 seconds became the second fastest man of all time, but still trailed Bolt by about two meters at the finish. Seven of the eight contestants ran in 10 seconds or better to make it the fastest race in history. But they were all catching Bolt's shadows, who uncharacteristically for a sprinter was dancing and blowing kisses to the camera before the race. A far cry from sprinters like Maurice Green and Carl Lewis who used to strut around and focus on their race. But it wasn't just his attitude that was radically different to the others, his time was too. It will be a long time before anyone catches up to this time... a long long time.

Friday, 14 August 2009

The World's Fastest Men!

In all recorded history, a human being has run a sub 9.80 seconds time for the 100m sprint (electronically timed and not wind assisted) on only 15 occasions. The 14 fastest times of those have been recorded by three men: Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay. On August 16 of this year, the three of them are scheduled to meet in the 100m finals in Berlin and barring bad weather or wind, the world record of 9.69 seconds set in Beijing last year is surely set to fall.

All three contenders are of West African origin. Two of them have been born in the Carribean to parents of West African origin. You see where I'm going? What do Ben Johnson, Linford Christie, Donovon Bailey, Asafa Powell, Bruny Surin, Ato Bolden, Kim Collins and Usain Bolt have in common? Some of the greatest 100m sprinters in history- yes, but also all born in the Carribean. Careful not to extrapolate a different strain of Hitler's superman theory, I am never the less compelled to ask the question "is there a genetic disposition to fast running in Carribean men?"

Since the advent of electronic timing in 1976, every single 100m world record has been set by a male of West African descent, leading to un-empirical theories that suggest that Afro-Carribean runners benefit genetically from the slave trade, "with people on the western most parts of the Carribean being the progeny of only the fittest of fit slaves." While proper nutrition and state of the art coaching and facilities have their part to play in the making of world class sprinters, raw atheletic abilities are a critical ingredient.

So leaning towards the theory that it is some genetically inherited fast twitch muscles that make you move your legs faster, I researched the subject a bit and came up with the surprising result in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Research suggests that faster speeds are achieved with greater ground forces, not faster leg movements. If you compare the fastest runner against a slower runner, there is virtually no difference between them in how fast one repositions the legs for the next step.

A sprinter achieves a world record by packing more force into each stride and covering nearly twice the ground with each step, not by taking less time to swing the other leg and arm into position. This is part of the reason world class sprinters appear so elegant--the stride is fluid and casual. By hitting the ground harder they are able to increase both stride length and frequency and therefore run faster. But they don't need any more time to swing the arms and legs than we do.

So its technique after all? I'm as confused as you are but at least that explains why the taller Usain Bolt is set to run the fastest any human being has ever run over 100m in Berlin in two days. You heard it here first!