The race ends in the blink of an eye. With millions watching around the world, a pistol shatters the silence and in a little over nine seconds, a mere 40 strides, the 100-metre sprint is history. The 100-metre event, among the oldest and greatest athletic competitions ever devised, is the ultimate test of nerve, skill and explosive athleticism. That sprint in the London Olympics will probably decide the fastest person in human history.
Favoured to win is the metaphorically named Jamaican sprinter, Usain St Leo Bolt. At 26, Bolt has been the runner to beat since winning three gold medals in Beijing in 2008 for the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4×100-metre relay. Bolt also holds the record for the fastest 100-metre sprint ever, an incredible 9.58 seconds.
He is an extraordinary physical specimen. At 6ft 5in (195cm) and weighing 200 pounds (90kg), Bolt has the physique of an Olympic swimmer, rather than the more compact frame typical of a sprinter.
There are two crucial factors in sprinting ability. One is stride frequency: how fast you can step. The other is stride length: how long each of those steps is. World-class sprinters tend to have very fast stride frequency but ordinary stature, lengthening their strides by applying extraordinary force. Bolt turns his size into an advantage and uses not only remarkable strength but his long bone structure to dominate opponents.
His biggest threat is his teammate and training partner Yohan Blake. The only sprinters close to their ability are Americans Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin. But London bookmakers are offering overwhelming odds that one of the Jamaicans will win.
Which raises a fascinating question. In a nation of just 2.8 million people, it’s incredible that Jamaica has produced not just one contender for the fastest person in the world, but two. You’d expect the US – the richest nation in the world, with a long sporting tradition and a population 100 times greater – to produce champions.
Is it pure luck that Jamaica is sending not one but two of the fastest men in the world to London?
It turns out Bolt and Blake are not unique in Jamaica…
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