Category Archives: Carl Lewis

“Freaks of Nature: Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson” by Joboy Quintos

In the sprints, an athlete aims to reach the finish line as fast as possible. Hence, he/she limits the time amount of time on the ground by being explosive. From the track literature I’ve read throughout the years, I’ve learned that stride frequency is genetic, while stride length can be improved through hard work. A sprinter can do as much explosive drills, plyometrics and Olympic lifts as humanly possible, but one’s stride frequency and explosiveness is limited by nature’s genetic endowment of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Stride length and stride frequency are the major pillars of sprinting. A sprinter strives to achieve a balance between the two. To perfect the sprinting form, an athlete goes through a cacophony of running drills to master each facet of the deceptively simple picture-perfect sprinting form:

  1. Back erect
  2. Shoulders relaxed
  3. Jaw relaxed
  4. Arms pumping below eye level
  5. Hands relaxed, not tensed
  6. Knees pumping high like pistons
  7. The heel not going beyond one’s butt
  8. Toes dorsi-flexed

Among the elite sprinters, I like respective forms of 9-time Olympic Gold medalist Carl Lewis, 2007 Osaka 100m/200m World Champion Tyson Gay and 4-time Olympic Silver medalist Frankie Fredericks the best.

Among all the sprinters of the orthodox school, Usain Bolt epitomizes the synergy of stride frequency and stride length the best. At 6’5 (1.95m), Bolt is the tallest elite sprinter to date (Although the retired German 400m specialist Ingo Schultz is taller at 2.05m, his major achievement pale in comparison to Bolt!).  Naturally, Bolt has longer legs and longer strides than most other sprinters at the world level. His height does not prove a hindrance, however, as he seems to possess a degree of explosiveness more than sufficient to outclass his shorter competitors.

Bolt seems to have ample endowments of BOTH stride length and stride frequency, despite the apparent instability of his upper body relative to other sprinters – a minor aberration to this purveyor of speed!

At 1.85m (6’1), Michael Johnson is not as physically impressive as Bolt. Pound per pound, however, Johnson is more impressive than Bolt with the former’s erstwhile 200m world record of 19.32s and current 400m WR of 43.18s. His arched back, low knee lift and short strides defies textbook sprinting form.

Johnson relies on sheer explosiveness, leg power alone and out-of-this-world speed endurance, in light of his relatively shorter strides.

Usain Bolt may be the current toast of the athletics world (despite his recent loss to Gay). Bolt has single-handedly lifted the sport on his Zeus-like back. He is every inch the sport’s premiere icon, with his stellar 100m and 200m world records. But then again, there will come a time when someone just as tall and fast as Bolt, would emulate his feats.

The chances of another maverick who epitomizes Johnson’s sprinting style is even more remote.

Simply put, if there’s a index which rates one’s ranking in the freak of nature scale, Johnson ranks higher than Bolt in my book. But on the showmanship index? Bolt is up there along with likes of Shaq!


Check out MJ’s reaction to Usain’s world record! This is priceless.

Article by Joboy Quintos

Photo credits:


Doping in Athletics: A Perennial Plague

A few days ago, the Jamaican sprinter Steve Mullings tested positive for a masking agent, barely two weeks before the Daegu World Athletics Championships. Mullings holds the third fastest 100m-dash time in the world this year, at 9.80s, and was expected to be amongst the top contenders for the century dash crown. A few days after, the American sprinter Mike Rodgers (fourth fastest in the 100m at 9.85s), also made the headlines for testing positive for a banned stimulant. Rodgers, according to his agent, apparently drank an energy drink containing the prohibited substance.

Doping is an ever-present threat to the credibility of elite sports, not just athletics. The aforesaid failed doping tests brought to mind the infamous Ben Johnson scandal. Who could ever forget the brooding, powerfully built Johnson? The fast-starting Jamaican-born Canadian blasted out of the blocks at the 1988 Olympic 100m dash final in a world record time of 9.79s. Johnson was disqualified days later for failing a drug test. He was stripped of his gold medal under much controversy.

In the investigation that followed, Johnson’s coach, Charlie Francis, insisted that they had been set-up. The type of steroid (stanozolol) that came out at the failed post-Olympic test wasn’t Johnson’s drug of choice (it was actually furazabol). The duo admitted to using drugs, but countered that the practice is widespread among the track & field elite.

According to a New York Times article, Francis actually tried to persuade the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the sport’s governing body, to put a stop to the doping practice in the late 1970’s. The exhortations fell on deaf ears and Francis allegedly turned to the drugs themselves to level the playing field for his athletes, said a former Canadian sports official in the aforesaid article.

Since Ben Johnson, the powers-that-be has been more vigilant in policing its ranks. But the cheaters found ways to break the rules. Through the years, the BALCO scandal tainted big names like multiple-Olympic medallist Marion Jones and her husband former 100m-dash world record holder Tim Montgomery. Weeks before the 2004 Athens Olympics, the host country’s top medal hopes, Kostas Kenteris (200m gold medallist in the Sydney Olympics) and Ekaterini Thanou faked a motorcycle accident in an effort to explain a missed drug test. Months earlier, several Indian athletes flunked doping tests administered at a training camp, casting doubts at the validity of India’s breakthrough performance in last year’s Commonwealth Games.

The Mullings case prompted the IAAF to impose mandatory drug testing for all the 2,000 athletes competing in this August’s World Championships. Amidst the renewed slew of failed tests – regardless of the reason or gravity of the offense – one bears in mind the allegations of Ben Johnson and his coach about doping being deeply ingrained.

However, drug testing has been quite stringent – among the developed countries at least. In Britain for instance, athletes are required to submit their schedule (specific to the hour) months in advance, to facilitate the random drug testing (read Tom Fordyce’s series of posts to get a clearer picture). Big names like Allyson Felix and Bryan Clay have volunteered to participate in Project Believe, where frequency of the drug testing goes beyond global accepted standard.

These draconian measures are undoubtedly hard on the elite athletes, but are a necessary step towards cleaning up the sport.

This article also appears in In The Zone

Lemaitre Streaks to 9.92s!

Christophe Lemaitre, for the nth time, lowered his French 100m record to 9.92s. Lemaitre edged out walloped fellow youngster Jimmy Vicaut, the newly-minted European Junior Champion, for the French national title.

The rangy Lemaitre started sluggishly (as usual), as Yannick Lesourd powered on to an early lead. In his trademark second-half burst, Lemaitre turned on the afterburners en route to his seventh trip under the ten-second barrier. It was a high quality field as Vicaut (10.07s) and Martial Mbandjock (10.17s) strutted world-class times, speaking volumes about the depth of French athletics.

Read the IAAF write-up here

The 21-year old shaved off two-hundredths of a second from his erstwhile PB, a new European U23 record (his fourth for this year), the ninth fastest time in 2011 and the third fastest time by European since Francis Obikwelu (9.86s) and Linford Christie (9.87s).

With Lemaitre’s penchant for last-ditch heroics, it is apt to compare the Frenchman to nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis – in the sprints, at least. Lewis clocked 9.92s and 9.99s en route to winning the Seoul and Los Angeles Olympic Games. But then again, those were vastly different circumstances than today’s.

View more posts about Lemaitre here

Nevertheless, expect Lemaitre to at least barge into the 100m and 200m finals come Daegu.

Ngonidzashe Makusha as the Next Great Jumper/Sprinter?

Before Ngonidzashe Makusha’s breakout performance at the 2011 NCAA Championships, I read about the Zimbabwean in passing a few days earlier, while doing some research on the fastest 100m dash sprinters of non-West African descent.

Read the IAAF article on the NCAA Championships here

Makusha joined the illustrious company of Carl Lewis and Jesse Owens as double gold winners of both the long jump and the 100m dash, according to an IAAF report. Trailing at third place on the fourth round, the 24-year old leaped 8.40m to seal the deal. It was the fourth-longest jump in NCAA history, according to the same IAAF report. The junior from Florida State followed up his victory in the horizontal jump with a record-breaking performance in the century dash.

Makusha ran at a blistering pace on the Des Moines track, despite trailing behind three other athletes at the first half of the race. By sixty-meters, Makusha put on a dazzling display of speed as he overtook the early leaders. His performance – from the way he lagged at the start to his fast finish – was reminiscent of the great Lewis, according to the NBC announcers. The Zimbabwean stopped the clock at 9.89s, breaking Ato Boldon’s long-standing collegiate record. Mookie Salaam (9.97s) and Maurice Mitchell (10.00s) finished second and third.

Since Carl Lewis, I have not encountered a jumper-sprinter athlete of note. Lewis, with bests of 8.87m in the long jump and 9.86s in the century dash was certainly in a class of his own. Being a nine-time Olympic gold medalist (including four consecutive wins in the long jump), Lewis is the stuff of legend. Makusha’s 8.40m and 9.89s bests in the aforesaid events place high on the all-time lists.

View the 100m dash all-time list here

View the Long Jump all-time list here

Not since Lewis have we seen a male athlete win medals in both the long jump and the century dash. Aside from Lewis, Dwight Phillips (8.74m, 10.06s) is the only jumper-sprinter who has significant standing in the all-time lists. But then again, the 2004 Athens Olympic Champion has not broken 10 seconds. Andrew Howe (8.47m, 10.26s) certainly has the jumping and sprinting talent reminiscent of a Lewis, but he had been plagued by injury the past few years, and only recently competed in the sprints. Until I reinforce my facts with solid research, it is best to note (for now) that Makusha is perhaps the most potent jumper-sprinter combo since Lewis.

It’s a long shot to preempt the outcome of Makusha’s career. One cannot preclude, much less predict, greatness. But it certainly looks promising, considering the fact that he placed fourth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The 100m dash is potentially troublesome for Makusha, as sub-9.80 performances become more common. Having good personal bests doesn’t automatically translate into top notch performance in the major championships. Nevertheless, it is interesting to find out how Makusha’s blossoming career turns out.

The World Championships this August will be his acid test.

Kim Collins’ Second Wind

The come-backing Kim Collins is on fire!

He  retired at the end of the 2009 Berlin World Championships, but returned to high-level competition early this year. In several indoor meets in Germany, the sprinter from the small island country of Saint Kitts and Nevis, rewrote the 2011 top lists twice. He stopped the clock at 6.52s in Dusseldorf. A few days later, he bettered this mark by two-hundredths of second in Karlsruhe. Unfortunately, a thigh injury prevented Collins from replicating his razor sharp form in the final.

The 34-year old had won his fair share of accolades. Collins was crowned world champion in the 100m dash in 2003. Aside from this, he had won a bronze in the same event in Helsinki 2005 and a 200m bronze at the 2001 Edmonton World Championships.

In Paris, Collins outclassed a star-studded (some, steroid-laced) field which included the likes of disgraced former world record holder Tim Montgomery and Briton Dwain Chambers. From Lane 1, Collins had a blistering start. He clung on first place (10.07s) in a blanket finish with 100m world junior record holder Darrel Brown (10.08s) from Trinidad and Tobago and Britain’s Darren Campbell (10.08s).

It was the slowest winning time in Championship history, tying Carl Lewis’ 10.07s time at the inaugural edition in Helsinki back in 1983.  Nevertheless, a world champion is still a world champion. Not many elite athletes can call themselves that.

To be honest, I only appreciated the significance of Collins’ feat whilst writing this entry. Compared to his competitors, the Caribbean sprinter was minuscule in terms of both height and heft. He was far from the stereotype of a burly speedster. There were no brash displays of arrogance when he won; Collins did not showboat. He just smiled as he proudly waved his island country’s flag, basking under the warmth of his first major crown.

Collins last dipped below the 10-second barrier in 2003, where he ran 9.99s in Zurich. He has a personal best of 9.98s from way back in 2002 and 2003 (he ran this four times) – modest by today’s standards. He has qualified for the Olympic 100m dash final twice, in Sydney and in Athens. In Beijing, the affable Collins placed 6th in the 200m final.

It’s good to see old hands such as Collins achieve stellar marks. He has claimed the scalp of fiery upstarts like Mike Rodgers and the under-performing Christophe Lemaitre. Rodgers is 9-years younger than Collins, whilst Lemaitre is around 14-years Collins’  junior. At the rate Collins is going, he might just surprise everyone (but himself!) in Daegu come August!

My Deficient Hurdling Form

A few days ago, I stumbled upon an excellent feature by Trans World Sports on Norway’s reigning World Youth and World Junior Champion, Isabelle Pedersen. The powerfully-built Pedersen reminds me of a young Susanna Kallur, with her raw sprinting power and technically-sound hurdling fundamentals.

In the clip, Pedersen was doing hurdle walk-overs. I noticed that her trail arm (her right arm) had an open palm ala Carl Lewis throughout the entire arm action. Then it hit me, why not do the hurdle walkovers Pedersen style? Instead clenching my left arm in a loose fist, I could make an open palm to instill the proper relaxed arm swing motion on my left trail arm.

During the formative months of 2005, when I overhauled my entire hurdling technique thanks to Coach Toto, I never corrected this blatant flaw in form. I’ve always had a problematic trail arm. Instead simply swinging backwards and forwards during clearance, my trail arm always jerks towards shoulder (or chin!) height, before the resumption of a more orthodox arm swing. As a result, the path my center of gravity travels during the hurdling motion becomes mildly erratic, instead of being as stable as possible. The arms, after all, are key in providing balance against the enormous torque produced during the hurdling action.

Sprinting-in-between becomes harder, in light of this split-second break in momentum.

Nevertheless, I corrected all the other aspects of my hurdling: (1) lead arm (whereas before, it used to swing from a high arch, I corrected it to mimic Liu Xiang’s sword-like arm swing) and (2) trail leg (the squaring of the trail knee become more forceful, the foot became parallel with the hurdle top bar). Despite my troublesome trail arm, I improved dramatically because of the hours I spent drilling over the hurdles.

At left is my deficient form. At right is the proper trail arm action, courtesy of non-other than Liu Xiang himself!

Photos from Karla Lim and BBC/AP

The flaws of my hurdling technique becomes even more apparent during the lead leg action. By this time, the trail arm had settled beside my hip, albeit quite tensely. As you can see from the photo below, I bring my lead knee up too high. The result is more hang time, as the lead leg needlessly exerts excessive upward force.

Photos from Karla Lim and Xinhua

Mind you, I wasn’t like this before. In the summer of 2006, I remember how my thighs almost always graze the hurdle top bar – a good feeling for a hurdler! However, a spate of injuries (hamstring and a terrible forearm fracture) stunted my hurdling finesse. From then on, I couldn’t seem to replicate the sensation of precise clearing. Even if I ran faster times, the hurdling clearances almost always felt lacking.

Despite the aforesaid flaws, my hurdling technique has some good points too. I am particularly proud of my squared lead leg and parallel trail foot. My lead arm swing is also efficient, enabling my trail leg to smoothly clear the hurdle. Needless to say, I am quite proud of my overall trail leg action!

Photos from Karla Lim and IAAF

I am light-years away from an efficient hurdling technique, much less to even approach Liu Xiang’s form – or any other world- or regional- class hurdlers for that matter!

As soon as I wrap-up the 2010 season and take a breather, I’ll head out to the track again to correct the deficiencies in my technique. I believe that a smoother hurdling clearance can shave off as much as two-tenths of a second from my personal best.

I’ll start with the most basic of hurdling drills – the hurdle walk-overs. Hopefully, an open-palmed trail arm would promote a more relaxed arm action.

Carl Lewis – Break It Up

The legendary Carl Lewis is one of the most bemedalled track & field athletes in Olympic history. Lewis won a staggering 9 golds and 1 silver over four Olympics. He was a multi-talented athlete, excelling in both the sprints and the long jump, like Jesse Owens before him. Lewis’ last Olympic Gold came at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where he unexpectedly grabbed 1st place as a 35-year old!

Despite his on-track greatness, Lewis seems to have been a magnet for controversy – or just plain ass flamboyance that borders the absurd.

This has got to be the funniest music video ever made by an Olympic gold medallist!

Video credits:


Alberto Juantorena’s 400m/800m Golden Double

The 100m/200m double in elite track & field competitions is a significant achievement in itself. Great athletes like Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt had won the twin sprints at the Olympics. The 200m/400m combination is a much challenging pairing. In major meets, only Marie Jose Perec and the iconic Michael Johnson stand out as successful conquerors of the aforesaid sprint distances. A couple of years ago, Johnson’s heir apparent, Jeremy Wariner, attempted the double unsuccessfully. The lactic acid-filled 400m race is a much different race than the 200m dash, than the half lap is to the century dash.

But then again, the 200m/400m double is not as fearsome as the 400m/800m pairing. In the history of the Olympics (as well as all the other majors – the World Championships, the European Championships, etc.), only Alberto “El Caballo” Juantorena has achieved this unusual combination of gold medals. The Australian Tamsyn Lewis had reached some measure of success in the said distances, but certainly not at the level of Juantorena’s.

Before I did the hurdles, my first event was the quarter-mile. In my readings as high school junior, the great Cuban became one of my first larger-than-life athletics heroes. Juantorena, originally a 400m sprinter, revolutionized how the 800m was run. At the 1976 Montreal Olympics, he went out like a madman on the first lap of the 800m final, taking full advantage of his sprinter’s speed. The towering Cuban ran a 50.85s 400m split, his long strides clearly evident as he overpowered the field in a then world-record time of 1:43.50. He held on for a memorable gold medal, a world record at that. I can almost imagine the shock and awe of the orthodox middle distance runners at such a bold move. El Caballo followed this up with scorching hot 44.26s, the fastest 400m run at low altitude at that time.

Even though Juantorena never replicated his stellar form in Montreal (he finished a distant fourth in the 400m dash in Moscow 1980), the Cuban’s 400m-800m double remains unprecedented. Even in the youth and juniors divisions, one will be hard pressed to find examples of such eminent talent. Perhaps its because of the inherent difference between the two events. Whereas, the 100m, 200m and 400m are all sprinting events, the 800m is a middle distance event. A sub-10 second sprinter, for instance, possesses the necessary leg power to power his way to a low 45-second or a sub-45 second 400m dash. Tyson Gay is the epitome of the all-around sprinter, having bests of 9.69s, 19.58s and 44.89s in the three events.

The 400m and 800m are light-years apart. The former is classified as a “dash” while the latter is a “run.” The distance doubles, the time required to finish the distance more than doubles. For a quarter-miler – a sprinter who digs deep, but a sprinter nonetheless – such a change of pace can be disconcerting. Not everyone is as dauntless as El Caballo. In my readings the past half-decade, I can say that I’m astute with track & field history. But I have never encountered an elite level athlete attempting to duplicate Juantorena’s feat.

What makes Juantorena special? It has to be in his long-strides and powerfully-built body. A former basketball player, Juantorena had a 9-foot (2.75m) stride. This combination of free-flowing, rhythmic strides and a sprinter’s natural affinity for speed overwhelmed his competitors, who were mostly tactical middle distance runners. Down the homestretch, the wiry middle distance specialists had no answer to the White Lightning’s long-striding, fast-finishing ways.

Winning multiple Olympic track & field golds is not as easy as bagging multiple swimming golds. Unlike in swimming, the disciplines in athletics possesses inherently vast differences in terms of energy utilization and technical proficiency. Track & field may never see the likes of a Michael Phelps, but it has its fair share of multiple medalists in the likes of Emil Zatopek (5000m, 10,000m, Marathon), Carl Lewis (100m, 200m, Long Jump, 4x100m), Usain Bolt (100m, 200m, 4x100m), Michael Johnson (200m, 400m, 4x400m) and Alberto Juantorena, whose gold medal winning ways in Montreal 1976 are truly legendary, a feat that would take generations to emulate.

Additional links:

IOC profile (Juantorena)


Ben Johnson’s Monster Starts

Ben Johnson, despite his infamous disqualification from the 1988 Seoul Olympics, had one bad ass start. The wide spacing of his arms was unorthodox, quite different from the shoulder width prescribed by most track gurus. The way he exploded off the blocks was simply jaw-dropping. His feet moved so fast that for the untrained eye, it seemed as if both of his legs moved in unison.

Take a look at Johnson’s warm-up routine for his monster starts (0:33):

Was it the steroids? Indeed. But hell, he’s a man possessed out of the blocks!

Here’s a clip of that notorious, 9.79s race:

It’s a pity how track & field’s biggest stars get embroiled in doping scandals. It taints the image of the sport, especially since the athletes question have been marquee names (Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, Justin Gatlin, etc.). As Ato Boldon puts it, the sport is unafraid to punish even its biggest athletes. That, in itself, is a good thing – despite the negative publicity.

Dope testing is an imperfect science. Cheats will always find a way to go around the rules. For a sports fan and an athlete myself, all I can do is hope that those at the top are as clean as they proclaim themselves to be.

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