Tag Archives: Michael Johnson

Thoughts on Van Niekerk’s World Record

Back when I was new to the sport in the early oughts, I started out with the quarter-mile. Even if I eventually shifted focus to the sprint hurdles in the subsequent years, I maintained a keen sense of interest in the 400m dash – and Michael Johnson’s legendary 43.18s world record in Sevilla set in 1999.

Although this a stretched comparison, Michael Johnson was my Usain Bolt. Johnson’s then world records in the 200m and the 400m were the stuff of athletics lore, clockings that elite athletes back in my day could only dream about.

Then a guy named Wayde van Niekerk stole the show in Rio and decimated a loaded field, running roughshod over one of the most revered sprinting records in recent history.

Having been away from the sport the past four years, my knowledge of track & field current events is at all-time low. So I did a quick Google check on the South African speedster and my jaw literally dropped when I stumbled upon an article about Van Niekerk’s unrivaled sub-10, sub-20, and sub-44 clockings in the 100m, 200m, and 400m dashes.

From the outermost lane, Van Niekerk ran like a rocket when the starting gun fired. While Kirani James, the defending Olympic champion, and LaShawn Merritt were battling it out in the middle lanes, the South African blazed around the other seven athletes in a much faster orbit. There was no catching the speedster from down under. That scintillating final saw the top three dip below 44-seconds for the first time in Olympic history.

Michael Johnson’s reaction to Van Niekerk’s record-breaking feat says it all: “Oh my God! From lane eight, a world record. He took it out so quick. I have never seen anything from 200 to 400 like that. That was a massacre from Wayde van Niekerk. He just put those guys away.”

Enough said.

“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!

P.S.

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

Article by Joboy Quintos

Photo credits:

ABC

Thunder Bolt

In 2008, Usain Bolt shocked the world by breaking the 100m dash world record months before the Beijing Olympics. At the quadrennial event, the lanky Jamaican smashed his existing world best mark, stopping the clock at an unprecedented 9.69s – despite celebrating 10m ahead of the finish line.

Read the rest of the article from the In the Zone website

“The Borlées: En Route to Olympic History” by Joboy Quintos

When the words “siblings” and “athletics” come together, the first name that pop  into my head are the Kallur twins. Susanna Kallur, in recent years, had distinguished herself in the women’s sprint hurdles, breaking the 60m hurdles world record and topping the 2006 Goteborg European Championships. Her twin sister Jenny, older by four minutes, has been a fixture in the athletics circuits, but hasn’t reached the same level of success as Sanna.

Read: Track Beauties of the Week: Susanna and Jenny Kallur

The Harrison twins used to be the finest example of sibling excellence, winning the 4x400m relay gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games – teaming up with Michael Johnson and the late Antonio Pettigrew. Alvin and Calvin were the first ever siblings – identical twins at that! – to ever win an Olympic track & field gold whilst part of the same relay team.

   

Kevin, Olivia, and Jonathan. (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen)

Belgium’s Borlee sibings threaten to usurp the aforesaid families. Trained by their father, Jacques, the Borlees are the most illustrious athletics family actively competing to today. Elder sister Olivia, a 200m specialist, already has an Olympic 4x100m relay silver to her name. The Belgian team finished 0.23s behind Russia in Beijing 2008.

Identical twins Kevin and Jonathan are en route to becoming fine quarter milers, with both brothers qualifying for the 2010 Euro Championships 400m final. In the 4x400m relay, the Borlee twins comprised half of the formidable Belgian team that won silver at the 2010 Doha World Indoor Champs and bronze at the Barcelona Euro Championships.

The future for Kevin (PB 44.88s) and Jonathan (PB 44.718s) looks promising. If the brothers can shed precious hundredths of a second off their respective bests, they could mount a decent challenge to the American hegemony in the 400m dash. If Olivia and the other female Belgian sprinters somehow reprise their fabulous bridesmaid finish at the London Olympics, with Kim Gevaert long since retired, the prospects for a three sibling Olympic romp becomes ever so bright.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but in my constant readings of Olympic (as well as World Championships) track & field history, three siblings each coming home with a medal is an unheard of fact.

Article by Joboy Quintos

Additional Links:

Video: 2010 World Indoor Championships 4x400m Relay

Video: 2008 Beijing Olympics 4x100m Relay

%d bloggers like this: