Reveal About Usain Bolt's Stride Upends Sprinting Science

Jamaican runner has an uneven stride, perhaps due to scoliosis
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 21, 2017 12:23 PM CDT

(Newser) – You'd think a smooth, even gait would ensure the fastest running speeds for elite athletes—but researchers who studied the world's fastest man have found that, at least in his case, symmetry doesn't matter. Per the New York Times, scientists from Southern Methodist University in Dallas released a study that examined the stride of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, and they discovered that Bolt's right leg slams down on the track with a peak force that's 13% more than that of his left leg, while his left leg stays down on the ground 14% longer than the right—a find that runs counter to what the limited data on sprinting biomechanics seems to suggest. This physical anomaly has led to what Peter Weyand, the director of the SMU lab, deems "the million-dollar question": If Bolt had adopted a more even stride in his peak running years, would he have been even faster?

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Bolt has said he has scoliosis, which, per his autobiography, resulted in his right leg being a half-inch shorter than his left. The stride he fell into over the years may have emerged to compensate for that mismatch, and the Times article details how the peak force and time on the ground for each foot varies for his left and right legs. "If he were to run symmetrically, it could be an unnatural gait for him," Weyand says, noting that evening the stride out might actually slow Bolt down. The scientists hope to get him into the lab and onto a treadmill after he retires for further analysis, though he doesn't seem terribly interested. "He isn't the kind of person who studies this type of thing," Bolt's agent tells the Times in an email. Read more here about the intricacies behind efficient running. (Read more Usain Bolt stories.)

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