On the face of it, running 100 meters would appear as child’s play. Anybody can run that distance without too much trouble. But modern athletics’ most glamorous event has more to it than meets the eye. It was first introduced in first modern Olympic Games at Athens in 1896 and USA’s Thomas Burke bagged the first ever 100 m Olympic gold by running in 12 seconds. More than a century later, just a little over 2 seconds have been taken away from that time. It might straightaway convey the impression that runners have made constant improvement over 120 years. But such assumptions do not account for the fact that the intervening years have seen improvements in running surfaces, running shoes, technical training, introduction of starting blocks and timing equipment.
The first man to break the 10-second barrier was USA’s Jim Hines, who clocked 9.9 seconds in 1968 Mexico Games and no one could break that record for next 15 years. However, not many people want to acknowledge the fact that the Mexico race-track was changed to Tartan from hardened sand used in earlier competitions. Jamaica’s Usain Bolt is the reigning world-record holder in men’s 100 m after he yielded monumental performances at 2009 Berlin World Championship. Bolt ran 100 meter in an amazing 9.58 seconds and also broke 200 m world record with 19.19 seconds. Among women, the fastest time of 10.49 seconds was clocked in 1988 by USA’s Florence Griffith-Joyner and she followed that up by also setting Olympic record of 10.62 s in 1988 Seoul Games.
Most track-and-field athletes know the technical aspects of running 100 meters and they do their best with tremendous power and blazing speed. The requirement of 100 m sprinting is, therefore, a strong powerful body and explosive power. The trainers prepare the athletes on exploding out of the blocks and driving to finish-line without significant deceleration. Ironically, the 100 m dash is regarded as the easiest race and many athletes try their luck in this category. This makes the event popular and crowded with several contenders, unlike any other athletic event. But there are many technically crucial requirements in running an error-free 100 meters.
100 m athletes need constant practice in setting themselves up on starting blocks. Trainers keep telling their wards about the best body position that can obtain high acceleration immediately after the starting pistol. Soon after coming off the blocks and achieving the acceleration, sprinters must try to reach the maximum velocity and keep that speed for as long as they can. Close to the finish-line, speeds of the athletes come down but here too, they should be careful to cross the finish-line without undue slowness. The entire 100 meter distance can be broken down in a few phases.
Sprinters set up the blocks so that the front block pedal is about 2 foot lengths behind the starting line and back pedal about 3 foot lengths. Block pedals should have a tilt of about 45 degrees. When the call for “on your marks” comes, runners should put their stronger leg on front block and quicker leg on the rear. In distinguishing between strong and quick legs, it must be understood that strong leg is used for jumping off, while the quick leg is used for kicking. Now runners place their hands just behind the starting line and spread them wide. The fingers and thumbs are spaced apart to create an arch that should allow for greater stability and push-off.
When the “set” command is sounded, athletes firmly press their hands and feet while also raising their hips higher than their shoulders. Their heads should be in a neutral position, aligned with the spine. When the pistol is fired, athletes come off the starting blocks and begin powerfully by pushing both arms in opposite directions in a large sweep of motion and set themselves into big acceleration with an objective of generating as high a speed as possible. In 100 m sprint, athletes attain the top speed, when they are in 50-70 meter range. Depending on athletes’ stamina, the maximum velocity is maintained only over a short distance before deceleration and fatigue begin to slow them down. Physical endurance of human body allows the maximum velocity to last only over a distance of about 20 meters, after which the neuromuscular coordination breaks down. At this point, experienced athletes use well-developed sprinting techniques to stay ahead of others. Even when Usain Bolt set the world record of 9.58, he had begun to decelerate in last 20 meters. As they approach the finish-line, athletes lean with their shoulders/chest a few feet earlier and continue this way until they cross.
The technique of running 100 m requires efforts by athletes and their trainers. It is a long drawn process that takes time and patience. An new athlete can show promise but cannot become a top performer overnight. It is an amalgamation of practice and patience. That is the reason why there is only one Usain Bolt, one Justin Gatlin, one Shelly-Anne Fraser Price and one Yohan Blake.
History of 100 meter sprint is replete with top performers. America’s Jesse Owens made waves during the 1935 Big Ten Track Meet at Ann Arbor by setting three world records and equaling one in less than one hour. His feat is known in athletics history as the greatest 45 minutes ever in sports. Next year, Owens also won four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics in 100 m, 200 m, long jump and 4 x 100 relay and single-handedly crushed Adolf Hitler’s supposed myth of “Aryan Supremacy” in sports.