In the world of sprinting, there are no debates. The notion of "arguably the fastest guy" does not exist, because things are settled in the most conclusive fashion possible.
Competitors are handed a set of starting blocks and assigned a compressed rubber kingdom 100 meters long and 48 inches wide. Side by side, they dig their spikes into the blocks, await the starting gun and explode out to determine where they rank in history.
The resulting times do all the talking.
When Usain Bolt dug his gold Pumas into the blocks at the Beijing Olympics, and flew to world-record-demolishing times of 9.69 and 19.30 seconds in the 100 meters and 200 meters, respectively, his results made one indisputable statement: I am the fastest dude to ever walk the planet. His recent re-upping of the 100m world record with a 9.58 at the 2009 World Championships followed that statement up with a swift: You will never catch me.
Garnering additional attention was Usain's revolutionary physique. The 6'5" pride of Jamaica looked nothing like the prototypical, much shorter, more muscular sprinters of the past. And while his almost-illogical height-and-speed combination is now redefining track and field, it has always been a part of Usain's athleticism. "I recognized that my speed was special awhile back," he says. "When I was 10 and playing cricket, my cricket coach saw me running and told me I should focus on track and field. That's when I got into serious running. Then, when I turned 18, I started my professional running."
Not surprisingly, once Usain exploded onto the international sprinting scene, he immediately began flirting with world records. But it was his epic 2008 Olympic performance that firmly established him as the fastest man in history, making his name a household word throughout the world, and especially in his homeland. "It was a wonderful experience," he recalls. "The people showed me a lot of love when I came back. I'm like a superstar in this country, so it's great [chuckles]."
By no means has Usain's new superstar status gone to his head. He keeps his goals and path ahead clearly defined. "This is my job, and I take it seriously," he says. "I really enjoy what I do, and I know the hard work pays off. On the track, it's all about staying number one."
Usain's On-Track Advice
The Form That Keeps Usain Number One:
We do strideouts, not laps, to start. We usually do 10 to 15 strideouts to get warm. Then we move onto some dynamic drills, stretching, then a few more drills. We finish with more strideouts.
Starting Blocks: Focus
Instead of up, I try to focus on driving forward, keeping a straight back, driving from the hips, getting full extension and putting some arms into it. Make sure you don't focus on the guy next to you, because that can really throw you off. Another guy can be very quick out of the blocks, which can make you lose focus. You have to stay focused on what you are going to do and run your race at all times.
Drive Phase: Hold and Transition
Make sure you hold your drive phase for 30 to 35 meters. Then you have to get the transition right so you don't come up too quickly. Come up gradually from the drive phase instead of popping up. That transition is so important, because it helps you get from your drive phase to full speed much easier. If you pop up and try to start running too soon, you really have to work to get to top speed. That transition takes about 15 meters, from 35 meters to about 50 meters.
Just like with the start, stay focused and don't think about the guy next to you. He may have gotten a fast start and might be out in front of you, but you can't panic and pop out of your drive phase. If you do, you'll lose your whole race plan—and the race is pretty much over.
Running Fast: Relax and Execute
If you do your training, it should all be okay come race time. So, I get into the blocks, take a deep breath and just remind myself to get a good start, hold the drive phase, relax and execute. Your muscles get tight when you tense up; they start getting heavy and you begin losing speed. The more relaxed you are, the smoother and faster you'll run. Just focus on turnover and using your strides.
Usain's Strength Training
As a precaution, Usain didn't begin lifting weights until he was 18 or 19 years old; but now he regularly incorporates a reasonable dose into his training. "I didn't want to harm myself by beginning too young, and I always made sure to learn how to do the exercises correctly first," he recalls. "Even today, I'm not a real heavy lifter; I just go heavy enough to develop the muscles. I don't go after it like some other guys, mostly the shorter runners [laughs]. I'm not really that kind of sprinter."
Although Usain keeps things lighter than most, his lifting has noticeably carried over onto the rubber. "It really has helped me with strength endurance," he says. "And it's good to have that strength, because you can run fast for longer periods."
• Assume athletic position under pad with feet just wider than shoulder width and toes pointed out slightly
• Keeping weight on heels and knees behind toes, slowly lower into squat until tops of thighs are parallel to ground
• Drive up into start position; repeat for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 1x10, 1x8
Coaching Points: Keep chest and head up, core tight and back flat // Do not let knees extend past toes
Bolt: This is for power in my quads and back. You have to make sure you are doing it right.
Seated Chest Press
• Sit at Seated Chest Press machine and grip handles at chest level
• Without changing upper body position, drive handles away from chest until arms are fully extended
• Allow handles to return to chest with control; repeat for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 1x10, 1x8
Coaching Points: Keep low back against pad and core tight
Bolt: This is good for all athletes, even though you might not think it's important for a sprinter. You should do core work and chest work to get everything strong. You need all of your body to be strong and work well; it's very important.
• Sit at Leg Extension machine and lock shins behind pad
• Fully extend legs and hold contraction at top of movement
• Lower weight with control until legs are bent 90 degrees
• Repeat for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 1x10, 1x8
Coaching Points: Get full range of motion—from 90 degrees to straight legs // Do not use momentum to move weight
Bolt: This is also for your quads and helps with the strength endurance needed to run faster longer.
The fastest man in the world slows down to hydrate: "I mix Gatorade with water and drink it consistently throughout the day. I've been doing this since I was young. When I'm feeling especially tired during training, I drink it straight to get a burst of energy. And after training, it really helps me recover from a hard workout."
Photo: Chicago Tribune
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