With all the hype surrounding Usain Bolt and his amazing Rio triple triple it might be of interest to understand how he runs so fast. It's been often said that his huge stride length is the main determinant from an anatomical point of view. And mentally he is of course on the top of his game - other sprinters probably do expect to lose to him.
Research from when Bolt ran his 9.58sec world record at the Berlin World Champs in 2009 indicates a maximum speed in excess of 12.3 metres a second at max velocity (1) and that his stride length averaged out at 2.77m between 60-80m and 2.85m between 80-100m. This contrasted, for example, with Asafa Powell who recorded 2.51 and 2.65m respectively. (Powell was third in 9.84sec). (2)
It took Bolt 40.92 strides to get down the track and Powell 44.45.
In terms of stride rate Bolt maxed out at 4.54 strides a second between 20-40m and then held at 4.49 between 40 and 80m and then ran the last 20m with a rate of 4.23. Powell in contrast had quicker values: 4.81 between 20 and 40m, 4.71 between 40-60m, 4.74 between 60-80m and 4.33 to the finish line. Incidentally Tyson Gay, who got silver, achieved a rate of over 5 strides a second during two segments of the race.
I'm pulling together an article on lower limb stiffness for Athletics Weekly and have discovered that Bolt actually has less 'leg stiffness' compared to his rivals (research was obtained from the Berlin 100m WR also). There is an answer for this, but I'll not say, until the article comes out!
Leg stiffness is a complex attribute and can be measured in different ways. It's values however, and ways of it being conditioned, can improve sprint (and all event) performance. Hopping, incidentally, is one of the best predictors of 'vertical leg stiffness'.
I'll leave you with a video of Bolt running his 9.58sec world record. Who'll beat it? Someone, sometime will, we may just have a wait a while!
1. Scientific Research Project - Biomechanical Analyses - DLV
2 Intl J Sport med 2012 Aug; 33(8):667-70
See what I've been up to!