I am sure many people have watched in raptures at the sight of Usain Bolt sweeping all before him to win World and Olympic sprint titles. But what makes him so fast and so good when it matters?
It is commonly suggested that he doesn’t train very hard. His eating of chicken nuggets during the Olympic games is well documented- quite different to what many nutritionists would advise, I am sure. He races people previously banned for steroid use. There have been arguments made that some of the benefits of steroid use may continue for many years after their cessation. So, even if these athletes aren’t still doping (and especially if they are) why can’t they beat Bolt?
The make up of Bolt as an exceptional athlete is clearly highly complex. No one factor is likely to make him better than anyone else. But there are some key elements that he embodies in progress of sport. He is the fastest member of the world’s population in 2016- the world’s population now, compared to even 30 years is ago, is substantially enlarged. This must increase genetic diversity, more diversity is likely to produce more extremes. Bolt is a personification of extreme in speed. His height is often suggested as something that separates him from his peers. But plenty of people are as tall as Bolt. He must combine the increase in lever arm and stride length with the power to propel himself at the equivalent of his peers to gain advantage. His genetic make up must have combined with his environment stimulus from a young age to enable him to develop such power. If the same individual was born in Ethiopia where he may have had to run miles every day to collect water he may never have been fast. Rather he was born in Jamaica where, he perhaps, sprinted in to bowl in cricket, or sprinted playing football on the beach. His apparent laid back and casual behaviour may also be a product of his culture. This may help him in sprint finals at the biggest events, fast muscle function is most effective when the muscles are not bracing against each other. Bolt manages to harness the positive emotion of the biggest events whilst maintaining sufficient physical calm for his speed. But despite this apparent relaxed attitude he must have a strong passion or determination to keep running fast and winning the same events over and over. You can only speculate as to his motivators, such as fame, patriotism, a constant need to prove himself, enjoyment of the momentary elation, money even. What must have happened is that almost everything in his genetic and environmental nature must have combined correctly to make him quicker over ground than anyone ever timed!