One year from now, the 2012 Olympic Games will begin in London, where all eyes will be on the incomparable Usain Bolt — the Jamaican sprinter who is more than living up to his name.
Since 2008, Bolt has taken a jackhammer to the 100-meter world record, lopping off a whopping .14 seconds. That might not sound like a huge chunk of time until you consider it’s twice as much as any other sprinter has shaved off the world record since the advent of electronic scoring.
Logically, one would think that Bolt did so by moving his legs faster than anyone else. Only he didn’t.
Speed, as it turns out, may be completely misunderstood.
When Bolt established the current 100-meter world record in the 2009 world championships, running it in 9.58 seconds, he did so by moving his legs at virtually the same pace as his competitors. In fact, if you or I were to compete against Bolt, our legs would turn over at essentially the same rate as his.
This is a theory put forth by academics and track coaches alike who contend that running fast has more to do with the force one applies to the ground than how quickly one can move one’s legs.
More than a decade ago, Peter Weyand, a science professor at Southern Methodist University, conducted a study on speed. Comparing athletes to non-athletes, Weyand clocked both test groups as they ran at their top speed. What he found shocked him.
“The amount of time to pick up a leg and put it down is very similar,” he says. “It surprised us when we first figured it out.”