The most spectacular sports feat this year has been the phenomenal 100m world record sprint by the tall (196cm) and young (21) Jamaican tyro Usain Bolt on 31 May in New York.
As with every world record run, the question is raised again: can the 100m be run in under 9 seconds?
The 9.72s run, which smashed Asafa Powell’s 2007 record of 9.74s, was literally a bolt from the blue.
Bolt is a 200m specialist. He finished second in the 200m at the 2007 World Champions. Then, as a training exercise, he entered a 100m race in early May. Result: the second-fastest 100m run ever: 9.76s.
Four weeks later, in his first real attempt to be a 100m runner, Bolt has broken the world record.
Watching the run on the television news, you couldn’t help noticing the huge strides Bolt was putting in once he got into his full steam ahead running pattern.
Like all big sprinters, Bolt is not great off the blocks. This is why he was being directed towards the 200m.
But on his world record run, he got a good but not an extraordinary start. When he came upright into his stride pattern after about 30m, he burst away from the field to finish well in front.
100m sprinters tend to be chunky and shortish (although Carl Lewis was neither).
The short, powerful build allows for an explosive start and the momentum to throw the runner through to the tape once he gets into his stride. The tall Bolt is described as ‘unfolding’ from his start. Once upright, though, he takes fewer strides than his shorter opposition to get to the finishing line.
Fewer strides in theory should be helpful to a sprinter, for when the foot is on the ground, the runner is momentarily being slowed down (think of a cricket ball slowing down after it lands on the pitch).
However, it is clear from film clips of the Berlin Olympic Games that the great Jesse Owens, the gold standard for sprinters up to the modern era, had a clipped, almost shuffling style of running. But then Owens was a 10.30s category runner, after all.
The last ten men’s 100m world record runs starts with Calvin Smith’s 9.93s in 1983 and finishes, for now, with Bolt’s 9.72s.
In 25 years the 100m record has been lowered by 2/10ths of a second, 1/10th every twelve years.
Working on this rule of thumb of 1/10 improvement every twelve years, can we expect someone to break 9 seconds for the 100m in about 2208?