What makes us fast?

Usain Bolt

This week sees the World Athletic Championships hosted here in London and a final farewell to Usain ‘lightening’ Bolt, the fastest man alive.

Bolt achieved the triple last summer in Rio 2016, winning gold in all sprint titles for three consecutive Olympic Games – and even if he couldn’t make it another gold on Saturday, it’s not bad for someone who has a scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine)! We like to think he participates in regular Pilates for this.

What allows him to run so fast?

Sprinting is all about moving your legs and arms as quickly as possible, so the obvious conclusion is that Bolt moves his limbs more quickly than everyone else…. right? Wrong! Bolt’s super long limbs allow him to take both longer and more powerful strides.

Typically, an amateur runner  takes between 50 and 55 steps to complete 100m, with an elite sprinter taking in the region of 45. On average Bolt completes 100m in approximately 41 steps,  four fewer than his competitors

These long stride lengths, plus a healthy dominance of fast twitch muscle fibres, allow less time spent on the ground and more time spent propelling forwards faster.

But what exactly gives Bolt ‘the edge’? Simply his height which many suggest can work to a sprinter’s disadvantage as it can make acceleration harder. Bolt is 6ft5inches tall, a few inches taller than most of his rivals because of his height, his stride length is almost guaranteed to be longer. When he eventually reaches top speed he takes far fewer steps due to powerful and long stride lengths.

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