h&f 0028 Understanding Asafa Powell’s 100m Dash (Part 2) Beijing Shocker ..and Not

Look at these two charts below and you will notice that we’ve lost one Olympic story and heightened two ongoing ones.  USA sprinter Tyson Gay did not qualify for the final.  Of course, this is the shocker, but not to folks who know the deal on hamstring injuries. Bolt and Powell stay on Jamaican collision course.

Bolt has given every indication that he’s up for what it takes – performance and poise – but it’s a way different thing to line up at the finals line.  Having seen MVP Track Club and Asafa’s work up close,  I truly believe he’s built for clocking gold.

Usain Bolt Semi-final Beijing 2008

Usain Bolt Semi-final Beijing 2008

When Gay pulled up in the trials, it was the scariest moment not for that particular moment but for what we knew it would mean right now. Track and Field would have benefited immensely from three of the fastest men of all time, all good men, all burning clean fuel.

Gotta give Gay “trooper” credit because you never heard him complain while you knew it would be unlikely for him to get to gold by running three heats, especially in this year’s semi-final that would force second-tier runners to their personal and seasons’ bests in order to keep up with Powell and Bolt.

Asafa Powell Semi-final Beijing 2008

Asafa Powell Semi-final Beijing 2008

Now check the charts again and consider the two big men left.

Asafa Powell, a big man, 6’2″, with an explosive start and the staying power to drive through the last 30 meters.  This is what makes Asafa Powell unique.  It is unprecedented for a man of his size to have such a fast start, a feature that is measured by the term “Reaction Time” in the 100m.

Bolt, a big man, 6’5″, with a slower reaction time but a thunderous ground-eater in the midsection of his races.

Here we have the story, comparing finishing power and reaction times. [ Note: (RT) is the elapsed time between the presentation of a sensory stimulus – gun sound – and the subsequent behavioral response – start off the blocks. – wikipedia ref.]

More than a mad dash to the finish, you should consider the 100m a piece of work with many critical parts.  When the Space Shuttle flew in the 80’s, it was said that the craft had over 3000 critical parts – parts that upon failure would cause the whole ship to fail. [In 1988,  3,583 critical parts: 1,475 ”Criticality 1,” single points of vulnerability, and 2,108 ”Criticality 1R” items, backup safety elements whose failure could cause complete failure.  Aadapted from NYT]

The 100m doesn’t have 3000 critical parts, unless you count (as you very well could) every single workout over about 6 years.  Rather, it has Five and within those a few more, but let’s keep it right there as former 400m World Record Holder John Smith has beautifully described in summary as “We are literally trying to stop time“:

  1. “reaction time,” a bloodless phrase for the violent moment when sprinters explode out of the blocks.
  2. “drive phase,” when the runners leverage their forward momentum to propel themselves down the track.
  3. “transition” — where runners are often visualizing gear changes as they shift into overdrive and fly into the fourth stage,
  4. “maximum velocity.” The goal at this stage is to maintain top speed for as long as possible — for 30 or even 40 meters.

So, this race is actually a marathon.  In each second, I believe Asafa Powell could tell you a 2 hour movie going through his head when he reflects on the 41 paces of the race.  And, finally we have to note the most counterintuitive point to observers.  To win, you have to relax.   That’s what makes this a marathon, having to maintain such tight mental focus over that distance.  There is no room for error at any point, start to finish.  In an actual marathon, 26 miles, you have time and room to correct mistakes.

By his own account, this is why Asafa lost in the World Championships in Osaka Japan last year, not relaxing at critical points in the race and hitting the gas too soon.

Coach Stephen Francis took this race as a building block in the Olympic plan, looking far enough ahead to allow certain mistakes at the World Championships:  “At the time I thought if Asafa goes there (Osaka) and wins, he’ll lose at the Olympics because he would believe there are no consequences to the way he prepared (for the world championships),” Francis told The Daily Telegraph.

I spoke at length with Coach Francis about this scenario and came away with a real mind tour as will happen when you speak with him.  Everything has shaped up for this moment for both Bolt and Powell.  Let’s see that drama unfold… in just over 30 minutes.  10:30pm at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, China.


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~ by ericjhenderson on August 16, 2008.

One Response to “h&f 0028 Understanding Asafa Powell’s 100m Dash (Part 2) Beijing Shocker ..and Not”

  1. […] getting off with the second slowest start among all runners.  But again, the thunderous ground-eating gait of a 6′5″ machine took care of the […]

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