The Trend Through the Years in Sprints

>> February 15, 2017

Sprinting has grown immensely. The first winner of the Olympics did not run faster than 12.h. Four years later in 1900 Olympics, two men equalled world record of 10.8 (hand-timed) during the heats. Both the winners of the 1932 and 1936 Olympics recorded 10.3h. In 1960's, 10.3h hand-timed means world class. In 1960's and 1970's, if you wishes to run the 100m in less than 10s, altitude is a must. Ben Johnson won 100m bronze in the 1984 Olympics in 10.24s. In 1990's 10.1 electric means world class. To run 100m in 2000 Olympics, you need only a 10.38s clocking. Asafa Powell has over 100m races in under 10s. In 2003 all-time 100m, less than 40 sprinters in the sub 10s lists. Ten years later on the lists, more than 100 sprinters broke the 10s barrier. Bolt, Gay, Blake, Powell, Gatlin all ran 9.58, 9.69, 9.69, 9.72, and 9.74s, respectively. A 10.12s is the current Olympic and Worlds standard. It is threfore interesting to find out the trend or what are the unique changes through the years that maybe related to the progression. Here we go.


Before 1980's - Complete genetics
  • Most of sprinters in the past are "born sprinters", which means they rely on genetics for their successes. 
  • The training limitation and culture did not allow them to train under the most effective environment and system that are available now.
  • Some athletes did benefit from a better coaching from the great coaches in the past.

1980's - Strength and muscles
  • Because the understanding that the muscles that you build could generate higher force and power.
  • The use of steroid facilitated this practice.
  • To run fast in sprints, you must develop muscles (kind of mindset).
1990's - Strength and power
  • Some good coaches started to realize it is the ability to maximize power output that matters than how much strength you have. 
  • A combination of muscles (strength) and power was thought to be essential.
  • Lack of understanding regarding the environment factor, that bigger athlete can deal better whenever the race is against the winds (headwinds).
  • Many people confused between strength and power during these days (unable to differentiate).
  • To break 10s in the 100m, you must develop muscles (kind of mindset).
2000's - Power
  • It was thought that fast turnover or cadence of legs is more crucial than having big muscles.
  • Tim Montgomery broke WR in 9.78s in 2002, "confirming" the belief.
2000's - Rate of force development
  • People started to think more critically, it is how much force that you can produce in short amount of time that could help you to run faster.
  • Sprinters in these days are generally not bigger in muscle sizing than those in 1990's and 1980's.
2010's - Orientation of the force application
  • Marginal gains sort of mind - small things can make difference.
  • It's not only force and power, but how you use these to make you a better sprinter.
  • The technique of force application can determine how good the body is propelled forward.

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