London: Usain Bolt, who may need to produce the race of his life to retain the Olympic 100 metres title after his shocking defeat in the Jamaican trials this week, is capable of running the distance in an amazing 9.4sec, a new study has found.
Bolt’s dominance has been called into question after he lost over 100m and 200m to compatriot Yohan Blake.
Now he will be determined to show the form which brought a staggering world-record time of 9.58 when he won world gold in Berlin in 2009.
If Bolt does, he could go even faster thanks to a unique running style which scientists say compares to that of the world’s fastest land animal, the cheetah.
It doesn’t need a genius to realise that one key to Bolt’s speed is his height – at 6ft 5in he obviously takes longer strides than his rivals.
Yet scientists now believe what really gives him an extra edge is actually the amount of time his feet are on the ground during a race.
“Sprinters he has run against, such as Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, take about 45 steps. Bolt takes 41,” the Sun quoted Dr Matthew Taylor, a sports scientist based at the University of Essex, as saying.
“This allows him to cover a greater distance with each step which in turn means he spends more time on the ground, what we call ‘stance time’.
“Also, as he lands, his leg is less stiff which possibly allows him to store and then release a greater amount of energy as he leaves the ground again.”
“Throughout the Berlin race, Bolt’s stance time was greater than that of his competitors. Why is stance time important? Because vertical force is important in sprinting.”
“By having his foot on the ground for longer, Bolt is able to apply this force over a longer, optimal time frame.”
“Cheetahs do a similar thing with gait mechanics that prolong periods of ground force by increasing ground contact time.”
“Vertical stiffness is also important for sprinting. Think of a spring - your legs - with a mass of stuff attached above it - your upper body.”
“The faster you run, the stiffer the spring. This stiffness for Bolt, Gay and Powell is between 3.8 and 5.7 times greater than it would be for us mere mortals running 100m in 12 seconds or more.”
“The interesting thing is that Bolt’s stiffness is significantly less than his competitors. Why? Because of his increased stance time,” he said.
Dr Taylor worked with German-based Professor Ralph Beneke to produce a mathematical model from Bolt’s Berlin 100m.
“He says he can do around 9.4 seconds.
“Partly that is to freak out his opponents. But, looking at Berlin, if the conditions were optimal - the maximum legal wind behind him, the fastest possible legal reaction time out of the blocks and if he had been at altitude, in Mexico City for example he could have run that race under 9.5, a mid-9.4,” he added.