Want to Be a World Class Sprinter? Get a Good Coach

During an Olympic year, there is always added interest in the athletic events, particularly those in the Track and Field category. There were many outstanding performances at this year’s Summer Olympics in London and among the most memorable were the gold medal performances by Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in the Men’s 100 and 200 meter sprints.

By literally blowing away the field in all his Olympic events in London, Bolt reaffirmed his title as the “World’s Fastest Man”, in addition to having the distinction as the fastest man in history. What may be more important to the 26-year-old Jamaican is the fact that he didn’t “lose a step” four years removed from his equally dominant performance at the Beijing Olympics.

In the 100 meter finals, he merely ran a 9.63, breaking his own Olympic record set in Beijing.  That winning time was also the second fastest in history, just .05 seconds off his eye-popping record of 9.58, set in Berlin three years earlier. And his gold medal winning time of 19.32 in the 200 meters this year was just .02 of his Olympic and world record, also in Beijing. The man also known as “Lightning Bolt” capped an historic Olympic appearance by joining his three Jamaican colleagues to obliterate the world and Olympic record in the Men’s 4×100 meter relay in a time of 36.84.

How Does One Get Started in Sprint Distances?

So what must an individual do in order to get started in sprint distances? For starters, these types of runners should have a combination of speed, power and jumping ability, in addition to a possessing a slim build, which most running coaches will say is a prerequisite. Most track and field coaches at the elementary to high school level are able to identify talent through regular physical education classes and a stopwatch, and with their professional guidance and support, can potentially help an individual make it to the elite level.

Once an athlete demonstrates the natural ability to outsprint his classmates, a coach, teacher, coach, friend or family member can encourage the athlete to consider getting involved in track and field and compete against others at his or her age level. But it’s important that that athlete have a good running coach who can offer guidance throughout this stage of learning and training. In Usain Bolt’s case, he was already a world-class athlete at age 15, having won the World Junior Championships in a 200 meter time of 20.61, which remarkably would have been good enough to take eighth place in this year’s London Summer Olympics. Obviously this won’t be the case with almost all of the other sprinters who are chasing after him. After all, it certainly helped that Bolt was already 6’5″ tall and had great coaching by the time he won that Junior Championship in Kingston, Jamaica.

But even if an athlete isn’t identified as a great runner in the high school level, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone cannot make it to the level of world class. Former world record holder Jim Hines, who was the first runner to break the 10 second mark in the 100 meters was more involved in baseball until a coach discovered that he also had the talent to be an outstanding collegiate sprinter. More recently another American, Justin Gatlin entered the collegiate ranks as a decent high school hurdler to emerge as one of the top freshman sprinters with just one season of collegiate coaching and world class status the following season. If Gatlin’s name sounds familar, he was the bronze medalist in the 100 meters at the London Summer Olympics.

Do World Class Sprinters Still Need Coaching?

Rather than discussing the types of training involved in the sprint distances for the 100 and 200 meters, one of the most important aspects of building an athlete’s career is not just training but to have a competent running coach. Just defer to the fastest man on the planet. Does he have a coach or rather; does he continue to need a coach? You bet he does. Two of the most important people that have led to Bolt’s Olympic success are Glen Mills and Fitz Coleman. It was under Mills’ tutelage that enabled Bolt to progress from a world-class runner to a world record breaker and Coleman took the proverbial Olympic torch and helped Bolt carry it to the gold medal podium.

Usain Bolt Wins the 100 Meter Sprint at the 2012 Summer Olympics

Usain Bolt Wins the 100 Meter Sprint at the 2012 Summer Olympics

It has been often said that the only worse thing for an athlete not having a coach is having a bad coach. Coaches have the ability to nurture an individual through the various stages of development but it’s important that all coaches live up to their student’s expectations through trust and guidance. Coaching involves a great deal of dedication and commitment and those who are interested in coaching as a profession should take the time to completely understand what it takes to be a credentialed coach through education and training. Who knows, a coach may just spot the next Usain Bolt at the high school level and help that athlete make it up to the next level and maybe all the way to the Olympics.

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