Will the 100 metres be run in under 9 seconds? Yes it will.

Spiro Zavos Columnist

By Spiro Zavos, Spiro Zavos is a Roar Expert

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    Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, center, breaks the tape with a world record time of 9.72 seconds in the men’s 100 meter sprint at the Reebok Grand Prix athletic meet at Icahn Stadium in New York. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

    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.

    Doping-Bolt shines under a cloud of suspicion

    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?

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (11)

    • June 8th 2008 @ 4:20pm
      Dave said | June 8th 2008 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

      Sorry Spiro but the question asked when l hear of such world records is not will it go lower but is the athlete a drugs cheat? Unforunately too often the verdict has eventually been yes they are. Whether Bolt is or not only time and improvements in testing, will tell.

    • June 8th 2008 @ 10:48pm
      Guy Smiley said | June 8th 2008 @ 10:48pm | ! Report

      Within the last decade, athletics, just like cycling, ceased to be deserving of any credibility. It is a pseudo-sport. I read that this was Bolt’s 5th attempt at the 100m. And he breaks the world record? It was also a long time ago that I stopped worrying that such comments would be labelled as cynical. Athletics is really a bit of a farce.

    • June 27th 2008 @ 10:36am
      Jameswm said | June 27th 2008 @ 10:36am | ! Report

      Geez talk about cynical.

      It isn’t entirely difficult to have an educated guess at who the drug cheats are. You can tell bvy build and improvement and even (sometimes) the stretch marks.

      Bolt, being tall and very lean, doesn’t actusally fit the mould of a drug cheat. He’s only young and burst on the scene a couple of years ago, running 200s, and running them fast.

      He’s of course run more than five 100m races in his life, but not serious ones as a pro. In that regard, he’s focused on the 200 which, as Spiro said, he’s theoretically better suited to.

      Yeah aths has had its drug problems, but who ever doubted Marion Jones and Flojo were on drugs? Ditto Ben Johnson.

      Give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Sheesh.

    • June 27th 2008 @ 11:01pm
      Guy Smiley said | June 27th 2008 @ 11:01pm | ! Report

      No benefit of the doubt is due. Athletics hasn’t worked hard enough to clean up it’s act and is completely lacks credibility. F-A-R-C-E.

    • June 30th 2008 @ 12:18am
      Monty String said | June 30th 2008 @ 12:18am | ! Report

      SPIRO – to break the 9 second barrier we’ll need an improvement in equipment a la tennis.
      Running shoes could be made that would spring the runner out of the blocks as well as power him/her down the track. We already have springs built into sneakers, so I believe they’ll come into track and field and be approved. Next, the track surface itself could and will be made faster. There may not be much room for improvement in shorts and vest, although Bolt’s loose, free-flowing shirt may have fractionally slowed him in that record run.

      Last I heard, he’s undecided about running the double at Beijing wanting to concentrate on the 200, but the 200 is all about running the bend properly which is why he took only the silver last time out. Even a good starter can be disadvantaged in the 200 if he/she loses time running the curve. Aussie Peter Norman medaled in ’68 because, although he was a lousy starter, he ran a beautiful bend and came out of it like something shot from a cannon.

      Ultimately, what will improve homo sapiens physically – and, therefore, all athletes’ times – will be legal technological implants. This is a gigantic subject and the scientists are in only the early stages, but it’s already helping people medically. In time, implants will help athletes jump longer and higher and run faster. Brave new world? Sure. We’ve been heading toward it for years.

    • June 30th 2008 @ 5:06am
      Cutter said | June 30th 2008 @ 5:06am | ! Report

      First drugs, then legal technological implants (I am rolling my eyes) and, finally, genetic engineering. It reminds me of the history of earth as described in “Red Dwarf”. It followed exactly that path and got to the point where soccer goal keepers were genetically engineered to be exactly the same dimensions as the goal mouth. No thanks.

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