Running Down A Dream

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 6 2012 @ 11:42am

by Matthew Sitman and Patrick Appel

Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter, set a new Olympic record last night in the 100-meter dash. Jamaica will likely take the lion's share of medals in the 100 and 200 meter races at the Olympics. Alexander Osong investigates the sources of these runners' success:

Wilton Peart…believes in the power of training on grass. The 38-year-old has won the 100 meters in the senior class in Kingston. He was once a professional athlete, but he wasn't a great talent. He says he loves running. He runs in the evenings after work, on the grass and in the moonlight. Running on grass strengthens the muscles, Peart says, pointing out that Bolt also started out on grass. In fact, Jamaica has only five all-weather synthetic tracks. Poverty, Peart notes, is a great motivator.

John Barrow analyzes Bolt's running style: 

The recorded time of a 100m sprinter is the sum of two parts: the reaction time to the starter’s gun and the subsequent running time over the 100m distance. An athlete is judged to have falsestarted if he reacts by applying foot pressure to the starting blocks within 0.10 s of the start gun firing. Remarkably, Bolt has one of the longest reaction times of leading sprinters—he was the second slowest of all the finalists to react in Beijing and third slowest in Berlin when he ran 9.58. Allowing for all this, Bolt’s average running speed in Beijing was 10.50 m/s and in Berlin (where he reacted faster) it was 10.60 m/s. Bolt is already running faster than the ultimate maximum speed of 10.55 m/s that a team of Stanford human biologists recently predicted for him.