Coach helps Gators make mark in 100 meters
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, sprinter Usain Bolt made history in the sport's signature event.
And a fair start. Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt is also out well. Here they come down the track. Usain Bolt sprinting ahead — winning by daylight. A new world record. How easy was that?
That was the call by Tom Hammond of NBC Sports. If you bent down to tie your shoe or walked away to brush your teeth, you missed the race.
Bolt made Olympic history — from start to finish — in 9.69 seconds. A year later at the IAAF Track & Field World Championships in Berlin, Bolt shattered his record by winning the 100-meter dash in 9.58 seconds.
Bolt's wins in Beijing and Berlin have more than 25 million views on YouTube, proof of how one of the sports world's shortest events captures the public's imagination in a way few events can.
“Everybody wants that mantle of the fastest man or the fastest woman in the world," said Gators track coach Mike Holloway, who will be an assistant for the U.S. Team at the 2012 Olympics in London. "People are always going to make a big deal about the 100 — it’s that pure man against man, that explosion. It’s over in 10 seconds or less."
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden tried to put the 100 meters' magical appeal in perspective in a recent interview on NPR.
"It captures explosiveness, speed, excitement and really that unimaginable tension that's in the air in the two or three seconds before the gun goes off," Layden said. "I've always likened it to being somewhat similar to the moments before the start of a heavyweight fight."
Holloway works closely with two up-an-coming 100-meter specialists with the Gators — senior Jeff Demps and sophomore Darshay Davis.
Demps won the 2010 NCAA 100-meter crown but isn't competing at this week's NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, due to a sore hamstring. He continues to train at Florida in hopes of earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team later this summer.
Meanwhile, Davis, who regularly trains with Demps, seeks to make her mark at the NCAA Championships starting Wednesday at Drake Stadium in the 100-meter preliminaries.
A sophomore from Everglades High in Miramar, Davis is in the transition phase from raw runner to refined technician. She is coming off a career-best performance in the 100 at last month's SEC Championships, where she placed third with a personal-best 11.30 seconds.
Considering that is three-tenths of a second improvement from when she arrived at Florida, Davis appears in the fast lane toward establishing herself as one of the NCAA's top women in the event.
"The big thing with her is just her learning the phases,'' Holloway said. "People always ask, 'what makes a great 100-meter sprinter?' The first thing is obviously genetics. The other thing is the willingness to put the work in.
"You see a lot of people that go out and they run fast once and then they just kind of disappear. The big key for them is to understand that you have to be a big student of the sport. At some point, everybody gets to the point where everybody is of equal ability. It’s the technician, it’s the student, it’s the person who wants to learn how to do it right that is going to win the race.”
As Demps raced into the record books by winning the 100-meter crown at the 2010 NCAA Finals, Davis was still in high school, finishing runner-up at the Class 4A state meet in both the 100 and 200 meters.
She had a personal-best time of 11.61 seconds during her prep career and has worked tirelessly to improve her performance in her two years working closely with Holloway.
She considers herself a student of the event, something she couldn't say when she signed with the Gators out of high school.
"Coach Holloway is a very good sprint coach,'' Davis said. "If you actually listen to him and retain the information he is telling you, what he says will honestly happen. I'm very grateful for where I am. Out of high school, I don’t think seeing the stats that nobody would think I could run this fast.
"The 100 is very technical. I like it, but it is very frustrating. The 200, I have room for flaws. I can do something bad and can make up for it."
So what goes into a race that lasts 10 to 11 seconds? What does Holloway discuss at practice with sprinters such as Demps and Davis as they dream one day of joining the elite of the elite, such as Bolt and American Carmelita Jeter on the women's side.
Holloway stresses the importance of perfecting each phase. In the race model he teaches, the 100 includes four different phases.
"We talk about a push, we talk about a drive, we talk about max acceleration, we talk about a maintenance phase, relaxation,'' Holloway said. "The 100, surprising to some people, may be the most technical event in track and field. It’s really not just put the blocks down and go run."
Here is a look at each phase:
THE PUSH OR DRIVE: METERS 0 to 30
This is the start of the race. The runners crouch down, place their feet on the blocks and as the tension builds toward the blast of the gun, a laser-like focus takes over.
The key here is to focus on getting a good start from the blocks and maintaining a proper form in the race's earliest stages.
This is an area that Holloway calls the "critical zone." The race's momentum is established.
It's also a phase he continues to work closely with Davis on to maximize her potential.
"Darshay gets a little bit antsy, gets in a little bit of a hurry,'' Holloway said. "This will surprise some people when they get in the 100 meters, but you have to slow down, you have to be patient. Patience is huge, because when you get in a big hurry, you spin and you don’t go anywhere. The mistake people make is that they want to get to their max velocity in the 100 meters in the first 10, 15 steps, and it’s not going to happen.
"You have to build to that. If you are not creating momentum, it's just a wasted phase. So the energy that you waste ends up catching up to you at the end of the race.”
In high school, Davis would simply come out of the blocks with her raw speed and race the person next to her instead of herself. She is beginning to understand how the intricacies during the push phase impact the rest of the race.
She talks with Demps regularly about this aspect of the race. The football player in Demps often takes over in this stage of the race, and Davis shares some of Demps' straight-ahead competitive traits.
But to excel in the 100, you can't come out of the blocks like a running back taking a hand off.
"My first two initial steps could be really good, but once you stop using your arms, you start to break your momentum,'' Davis said. "My biggest thing is trying to stay on my arms and keep the momentum I started."
MAX ACCELERATION: METERS 30 to 60
This is the phase when the runner should begin to stand up in full stride and reach maximum speed.
From a spectator's vantage point, you begin to see some true separation among the sprinters as they stampede through the middle of the race.
If the sprinter moves through this phase correctly, it's a thing of beauty for Holloway, because the true 100-meter technician is in full bloom in stride form and stride frequency.
"You never want their shoulders to get above or behind their hips,’’ Holloway said. “I always like their shoulders to be slightly in front of what I call their ‘center of mass.’ "
For Davis, she considers this part of the race her strength. Blessed with the kind of genetics Holloway mentions as being vital for an elite 100-meter sprinter, Davis has an ability to begin separating herself from the pack during max acceleration.
"If I do everything [in meters] 0 to 60 right, then my race should go well,'' she said. "I'm in it to win it. What I would want to look back and see is that I'm standing up tall and my legs and stuff are in the right position. That means I am carrying that momentum."
MAINTENANCE PHASE: METERS 60-70
In a race that lasts only 10 seconds, it's difficult to imagine that there is a phase that lasts only around a second. But there is.
Holloway calls it the maintenance phase. This is the part of the race that a sprinter wants to maintain his or her max acceleration.
Some of the elite runners can continue to increase speed through this phase, but the goal for most is to remain steady to form and not to lose any acceleration.
"It's easy to start fighting at 70 because you are already running, and that's when people get closer to you,'' Davis said. "It's easy to start running differently. If I'm staying on my technique at 70, then usually my race model went well."
In the course of preparing for a 100-meter dash, Holloway generally wants his sprinters to perform one race model in the seven days leading up to the actual race.
That means setting up the blocks, firing the gun and timing the race as if it's the real thing. That way they can watch film or discuss any technical concerns in the final days of preparation.
THE FINISH OR RELAXATION PHASE: METERS 70 TO 100
In Holloway's view, no one was perhaps better at this phase than American Maurice Green. By this time in the race, it's all about staying true to form and having confidence in your ability.
Green, who calls himself the GOAT – Greatest of All-Time – seemed to never get distracted by others around him in the race's final stage.
"Maurice Greene just got to the point where he could run sub-10 whenever he stepped onto the track if he felt like it,’’ Holloway said. “He really mastered it.”
Davis started running track in the eighth grade. She considers the 200 meters her best event. She said her comfort level in the 200 has helped in her development as a 100-meter threat, especially in the race's final 30 meters.
"My top end speed is really fast. That's the best part of my race,'' she said. "Once I start to turn over, I can either catch up or pull away very nicely."
Holloway usually knows by this stage whether or not a runner has a realistic chance to win based on how well he or she has carried out the race model in the first 70 meters.
Still, there are keys that can make a difference at the finish line.
"What’s interesting is a lot of people tend to get there, and they begin to press,’’ Holloway said. “The elite of the elite can accelerate some, but the average sprinter is not going to accelerate any more from 60 to 100. You want to do everything you can to maintain what you have built. What gets people in trouble is they get to 60 or beyond and they try to go faster. When they try to go faster, they can actually slow down.”
At the very end of the race Holloway's advice is simple.
"Run through the finish and lean through the line. The biggest key to me at the finish is not to lean to early. A lot of people get to 90, 95 meters and they start leaning. What I always tell my athletes is just to keep running, the finish line isn’t going anywhere. By trying to reach for it, you get your mechanics out in front of you, you start breaking, and then you get there slower.”