Bolt's running style

Bolt has probably had his form analyzed more than any other runner. Here is one such page, fairly technical:

Even Bolt has stated that he hasn’t put together a perfect race from first stride to last (although it was a few years ago). Watching the 100 in slow motion the other night I spotted something I hadn’t seen before. It was a great slow-mo shot, straight at him and in close. Usually they show the side.

As he comes off the blocks, his feet do not point straight rearward, they distinctly splay outward. The third stride is better, but it takes to the 4th stride for his feet to get straight. The other runner along side him has straight feet throughout. Could be another .05 there!


If Bolt gained 5cm in each those four straighter strides then he’d have run the final in 9.79.
But if, as a consequence of the straighter steps in he needed to take another stride (2.4m) to get himself balanced then Gatlin might just have held on to win.

Michael Johnson ran like he had a broomstick inserted which would have caused his junior coaches all sorts of heartburn but it seemed to be. But his holding a world record for almost 2 decades suggests leaving well enough alone was a sound strategy.
And watching from the home bend as he won in Sydney 2000 was one of the thrills of my life.

He actually looks undisciplined and untrained when he runs. Kind of gangly. He doesn’t appear to run with the grace and efficiency of an Owens or Lewis, or even Gay. He’s such a natural talent that I’ve often wondered if he even works that hard. But he must. His reign is unprecedented, and that has to take a lot of work. I think his natural gifts (he covers the 100 meters in 41 strides while the others take 45 - or so I’ve heard) would allow him to ascend to the top. But to stay there for 9 years? I think in his case, he just makes it look easy.

I can guarantee that no one has such a surplus of talent that they can coast and loaf at the world class level.

Michael Johnson compares the running style of Justin Gaitlin and Usain Bolt:

The upshot is that Usain Bolt looks kinda gangly when he runs is because he is kinda gangly. There’s a lot of wasted motion in his stride, especially just out of the starting block. Imagine how much faster he could be if his form were perfect.

Well, of course, he’s a much larger man than those guys. Jesse Owens was 5’10" and might have weighed 170 if you weighed him in his shoes and if he had his wallet in his pocket. Bolt is 6’5" and weighs about 200-205. He isn’t going to look the same. Owens was almost exactly the same size as Andre de Grasse, and de Grasse looked like a child next to Bolt.

But that said, I wholeheartedly disagree. He looks less efficient in his starts, but over the last part of the race I think his form is beautiful. Smooth, efficient, not an ounce of effort wasted. And that’s pretty much how his races go - he is rarely the fastest starter, but he blows the field away in the middle of the race once he has that big frame going.

Bolt is absolutely NOT untrained and not inefficient in his starts. The number of lazy, untrained athletes on the field at the Olympics is exactly zero. Bolt’s starts aren’t as graceful or efficiency as Justin Gatlin’s, but they can’t be because he has to start a much larger, heavier, ganglier object than Gatlin does. His body can’t be put into motion the same way Gatlin’s can; he has to gather it all up, if you will, to put in in place to commence the sprinting part of the race.

Yeah, I think the way Bolt is transcendent is similar to the way LeBron James looks on a basketball court. Or, to a lesser extent, Adrian Peterson in the NFL. They operate at a level of power and size that strikes a really discordant note in your brain, because nobody else with that sheer level of strength can move at that speed. It looks wrong, but not because they’re actually doing anything wrong; it just doesn’t seem like real life.

But once Bolt’s going I don’t think there’s anything missing technically.

The comparison to James is an apt one. In another sport, hockey, I’d suggest Mario Lemieux. Lemieux was very big, even by NHL standards, faster than hell and strong as an ox, and yet he seemed to be moving with a sort of weird, liquid ease all the time. It was kind of disconcerting. He didn’t appear to be working as hard as everyone else but whoops, he was past you, he just scored. Smaller men don’t look that way. Gretzky, Crosby, and Orr were all equally great but they were also all normal sized men. They looked like they were trying really hard. Gretzky especially, when he skated, appeared as if he was skating in an effort to save his life from an attacking polar bear. Lemieux just sort of glided around but then, oops, he’s past you again.

I don’t know that much about hockey, but Lindros had that sort of vibe for me, too. Just a different physical plane of existence.

And he hasn’t really needed to.