The Olympic games are a historical event to showcase Strength, Determination and Grit of athletes taking part in it. The 100 meter dash has been a flagship event at the Olympics, since the dawn of the modern Olympics in 1896. It has dominated the audience’s attention to it not only in the Olympics but in every other athletics event.
We’ve been seeing a rising trend in the times going lower and lower at the 100 meter race. From Jim Hines first breaking the 10 second barrier at the 1968 Olympics, a lot has changed. The 10 second barrier is being broken almost every race final, but why has that happened? What has changed over the years?
The tracks being used to run in the early 20th century were basically dirt tracks or cinder tracks and the stadiums often only had 5-6 lanes (as compared to the 9 now). With the dirt tracks, most of the energy was dissipated in the track and was not delivered to the athletes running on them. With fewer tracks, there were more qualifying races, some even on the same day. All of these factors reduced the performance of an athlete.
Synthetic all weather tracks came into being in the 1968 Olympics and have been evolving ever since. These rubberized synthetic running surfaces are used in track and field athletics. It provides a consistent surface for competitors to test their athletic ability without being hampered by any change in the weather.
The first track spikes date back to the late 1850’s. These were made by the athletes themselves, to increase traction on the then used dirt tracks. The first ‘spikes’ consisted of nothing more than nail driven through the soles of their shoes.
Then came along Adolf Dassler with his hand crafted shoes, built for strength and durability, which helped Owens win 4 golds at the ‘36 Olympics. Spikes had now been a staple in races and were used to get better times. The materials used to make these spikes have changed drastically ever since. Michael Johnson’s Golden Nike spikes being made from a combination of fibreglass and a special nylon, weighing in at a meagre 90 grams! Now that’s what helped him get Gold medals and World Records too.
For the first time, mandatory clothing was imposed at a major athletics competition by the organizers, at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games. This included a simple jersey and knee length drawers for the athletes.
Over the years, shoes have gotten lighter and the clothing tighter. Synthetic materials began to make their way into running uniforms in the 1970s, and the distinctions between short- and long-distance runners’ attire grew.
The 1984 Olympic uniforms were created with the help of NASA scientist Lawrence Kuznetz. A double-knit, aluminum-coated fabric aimed at deflecting the sun’s rays was developed using technology used in space suits for American astronauts.
Computer modelling had been widely incorporated into athletic uniform design by the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, with aerodynamic tweaks aimed at reducing wind resistance. All of this was created to bring down the timings of sprinters as much as possible.
Sprint training has existed since the nineteenth century. The training philosophy has evolved as a result of the experiences of athletes and coaches, and later in the twentieth century, as a result of the multidisciplinary approach to training athletes.
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Athletics is a sport not just about physical toughness, but also about mental strength. The fact that so many events and competitors are pooling in can make the life of an athlete stressful. The notion of deliverance and non failure has perpetuated the agony of every athlete.
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The notion that technology could and should shave time off sprinters’ races is becoming more widely accepted. One great example of this is the electronic starter block.
The new, starting blocks can detect more than just an athlete’s movement, but the pressure applied to the blocks. The pressure and force applied to a runner’s heel is detected to determine if the sole of the shoe left the block prior to the race start. Along with pressure and force detection; lasers, video recording, and timers were implemented to fix the previous block’s errors.
By determining the factors of the start, all by the readings on a starter block, a sprinter can be trained to get a faster and more robust start.