New York Times Features Research Showing Usain Bolt’s Uneven Stride Makes Him Fast

Jamaican Usain Bolt is the fastest sprinter in history, and a New York Times article features research showing that Bolt’s unique uneven stride is the reason for his speed. According to researchers at Southern Methodist University, who include some of top experts in biomechanics of sprinting, video examinations of Bolt’s stride revealed that his right leg strikes the track with approximately 13 percent more peak force than his left leg. With each stride, Bolt’s left leg stays on the ground about 14 percent longer than the right. The video evidence is counter to conventional wisdom that an uneven stride is likely to slow a runner. The university’s Locomotor Performance Laboratory is therefore asking a series of questions as Bolt readies for his final performance before retiring. These include: does an even stride matter for speed; did Bolt optimize his uneven stride to become the fastest human in history; could he have run even faster during his prime if his stride had been even. The last is the “million-dollar question,” said the director of the research team, Peter Weyand. Bolt clocked 9:58 seconds over the 100-meter distance and 19.19 seconds over 200 meters. The researchers’ working idea is that Bolt has probably optimized his speed, and the asymmetry reflects this; correcting the asymmetry would not create more speed and could even slow him down because it would be an unnatural gait for him, said Weyand.

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Stephanie Korney