So if he is the fastest man in the world, how can he be faster? This is the $25 million dollar question (or more) and an issue that many running coaches struggle with. Let’s begin with why he wins races. Most sprinters are a half foot shorter than Bolt who towers over them at 6’5″, allowing him to travel greater distance for each stride. Once upright about halfway along the 100 meter race, he achieves top speed and does not slow down (unless he is in a qualifying race and knows that he’ll win). There are different phases of sprinting and the first phase is called the drive phase. This is where Bolt struggles. During this phase of the race, the sprinters begin in a low position with hands supporting their bodies. Once the race is initiated the hands are removed and the sprinters still must maintain a very steep low angle for optimal linear acceleration. Since Bolt is tall, he has a disadvantage in this phase. I encourage you to watch video of Bolt coming out of the blocks and you will see a giant emerging from this crouching phase as awkwardly as a tall gymnast performing the uneven bars. His lower body twists and he moves from side to side. Some coaches find this to be advantageous because the body leverages muscle length to produce power most optimally in various positions of movement.
Once Bolt is upright, there is nobody that can stay ahead of him. When sprinters cycle through they strike the ground at increasing force until maximum output is reached. During this ramp up the stride gets longer. Although Bolt’s height may be a disadvantage in the blocks, this is a huge advantage when he achieves top speed. His stride length is much greater than his competitors and as a result he covers more ground per stride. At this phase he only needs to run as fast as the other runners and they you will see him pull away from the pack doing only what he knows–winning.
We at Downtown Physical Therapy do not expect to see any elite sprinters any time soon but it is fun to analyze these human specimens and share some thoughts. Hope you enjoyed this short write up and enjoy the Olympic Games!