Tokyo: How science is helping more runners break the historic 10-second barrier in the 100-meter dash

  • Fernando Duarte
  • BBC World Service

image source, Getty Images


The London 2012 men’s 100m dash final, in which seven of the eight runners completed the race in under 10 seconds, was a sign of things to come.

It was a nautical change from the main event in track and field, but spectators are unlikely to notice inside London’s Olympic Stadium for the 2012 Olympics.

Understandably, they got distracted watching Usain Bolt cross the finish line in the men’s 100m competition.

The Jamaican star won another gold medal that night and set the Olympic record for this race in 9.63 seconds.

“It was one of the best races ever,” explains Steve Hack, professor of sports engineering at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK.

But Hack doesn’t just praise Bolt’s achievement.

Your comment is driven by the overall performance of the group of athletes: Seven of the eight contestants who took part in that final crossed the finish line in less than 10 seconds, which is unprecedented.

The 10-second barrier was broken for the first time in 1968But today this is still a remarkable achievement for runners, and a badge of honor that sets them apart from their peers.

The number of Under-10 runners has increased dramatically in recent years.

Bolt has a score of 9.58.


Under 10 club

Increase the number of male runners running 100 meters in less than ten seconds.

Source: World Athletics

According to data from World Athletics, the sport’s governing body, in the four decades between 1968 and 2008, only 67 athletes managed to break the barrier. Another 70 will join the club in the next 10 years.

Equivalent septum for women, 11 secondsIt also breaks more and more.

The expanding club

Scholars like Haake think it is combination of factors It starts with increased participation in track events around the world and access to better training methods.

Today, “more athletes around the world are taking advantage of elite training and the help of sports science and technology to improve their chances of running faster,” Haki adds.

The evidence is that the U-10 club has expanded beyond major powers like the United States and Jamaica and teams like Great Britain and Canada, which have won at least one Olympic gold medal in the men’s 100m.

image source, Getty Images


In the women’s 100m, the 11-second barrier is also broken at an increasing pace.

Nigeria, for example, shares with Great Britain the third-highest number of athletes to break the 10-second barrier with 10 athletes, while newcomers to the club include Japan, Turkey, China and South Africa, countries less known for their sprint excellence. .

Similar results are seen in the women’s 100m dash. The 11-second barrier was first broken in 1973 by East German sprinter Renate Stecher.

By 2011, 67 other athletes had done so. Ten years later, the total number has reached 115 and includes athletes from countries with less tradition in the event.

Footwear, Tracks and Sports Science

The technology was useful.

Today’s runners are running with lighter. The latest models can weigh less than 150 grams and are made of completely different materials.

image source, Getty Images


Running shoes have definitely come a long way.

the Running tracks They’ve also come a long way since the days when elite athletes raced on dirt or grass in competitions.

Synthetic tracks debuted at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, providing more protection for athletes’ joints and promising a trampoline effect that would lead to faster times.

At those same Games, American runner Jim Hines became the first human to run 100 meters in less than 10 seconds, more precisely: 9.95.

Tracks are getting faster because the shape of the vulcanized rubber granules used in surface construction is now being considered.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Italian roofing manufacturer Mondo celebrated the five world records set on the track it provided for athletics competitions almost as well as the runners.

image source, Getty Images


Athletics tracks have also developed.

Science has also affected feed and in exercise.

Today’s runners can be thoroughly analyzed and adjustments made to technique and reaction times.

Researchers have even identified the muscles that are most important to runners’ success.

Last October, a team of scientists from Loughborough University in the UK, a leading institution in sports science studies, discovered that the gluteus maximus (the muscle that makes up the buttocks) is the key to athletes reaching top speed.

“We now have knowledge that there is a very specific distribution of muscle in elite runners,” says Sam Allen, a biomechanics expert who was involved in the research.

“So we’ll soon see runners specifically working on this development.”

Is the barrier psychic too?

image source, Getty Images


American sprinter Jim Hines completed the world’s first 100 meters in under 10 seconds in 1968.

No Japanese runner ever removed the barrier until 2017. Since then, Yamagata and three other nationals have done so.

It also appears that the expansion of the U-10 club in terms of number and variety is happening Making the barrier less intimidating for athletes.

That is the view of China’s Bingtian Su, who in 2015 became the first Asian-born man to run the 100m in under 10 seconds.

image source, Getty Images


Chinese runner Bingtian Su believes that the 10-second barrier is essentially a psychological challenge.

“I think the barrier is more psychological than physical,” he said in 2019.

Medal Mastery

Obviously, these developments are not an automatic guarantee of success in breaking the barrier.

So far, for example, many countries, such as India, and even an entire continent (South America) still have to produce a male athlete breaking 10 seconds or a sprinter breaking the 11 under 11 barrier.

In fact, the expansion of the Under-10 Club has not altered the competitive balance when it comes to winning medals.

image source, Getty Images


Victories in the 100m races remain a duopoly between the United States and Jamaica.

In both the men’s and women’s competitions, sprinters from the USA and Jamaica have consistently dominated the podiums in the world championships and Olympic races since the 1980s.

In the men’s competition, for example, the last runner outside of these countries to win Olympic gold was Canadian Donovan Bailey, at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

In the women’s race, Yulia Nestyarinka’s victory at the 2004 Athens Olympics was a surprise even for the Belarusian sprinter.

American athletes have won races in the previous five Olympic Games and Jamaicans have won the following three.

Things are unlikely to change at the Tokyo Games, Although they were the first after Bolt retired.

American sprinters have four of the five fastest times in the men’s 100 meters in 2021, while three Jamaicans and one American are among the five fastest women on the planet so far this year.

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