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Christilaw: Sprinters always pushing to go faster

University’s Anthony Buchanan, center, leads Rogers’ Mason Cohen, left, and Mount Tahoma’s Simeon Stewart, right, to win the Class 4A 100 meters at the state track meet  May 26, 2000, in Tacoma, Wash. Buchanan won with a time of 10.43. (JOHN FROSCHAUER / File Associated Press)
University’s Anthony Buchanan, center, leads Rogers’ Mason Cohen, left, and Mount Tahoma’s Simeon Stewart, right, to win the Class 4A 100 meters at the state track meet May 26, 2000, in Tacoma, Wash. Buchanan won with a time of 10.43. (JOHN FROSCHAUER / File Associated Press)

There is something sublimely primal about track and field.

It asks basic questions of its athletes, questions that date to the very beginnings of sport: How fast can you run? How far and how high can you jump? How far can you throw?

In answer, athletes respond with an elegant balance of speed and grace.

Perhaps the most graceful sport of all are the sprints: the 100 meters and its multiples.

At the very highest levels of competition, the 100 meters is a testament to just how the human spirit pushes past any attempt to chart its limits.

In the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, the fastest man alive – the name given to the winner of the Olympic gold medal at 100 meters – Armin Hary, won with a time of 10.2 seconds. The fastest woman alive was American legend Wilma Rudolph, who covered 100 meters in 11.0 seconds. Both ran on a dirt track.

Almost six decades later, those times might get a sprinter out of the preliminaries and into the finals. But only just maybe.

The tracks have gone from dirt and cinders to the modern surfaces of today. Starting blocks have taken the place of the trowels sprinters like Jesse Owens used to dig themselves purchase from the dirt tracks they ran on.

But the same human spirit that has driven athletes from ancient Greece through today, a spirit that craves to run faster, is still at work today.

University grad Anthony Buchanan holds the Class 4A boys record at 100 meters at 10.43 seconds – just an eye blink slower than the gold medal time in Rome.

“I think anyone can be a sprinter,” West Valley track and field coach Vic Wallace said. “If you see the kind of kid who is always walking on his toes, that catches my eye. And I notice the kids who tend to pronate their toes when they walk, because that’s a sign of someone who can sprint.”

Wallace puts his Eagles through a series of exercises to help build on their natural speed, keeps them stretched out and narrows their focus on areas that will help them run faster.

Because running faster is as much about learning technique as it is about natural ability. And at the highest levels, it’s about learning how to get the most out of your talent.

Last year, Wallace and the Eagles had a record-breaking 4x100 team that finished second at the state Class 2A meet.

“We’ve got half that team back from last year and we have a great group of kids to choose from to fill out the rest,” Wallace said. “I don’t know if we can match what we did last year, but we should be good.”

Sprint coaches put a great deal of emphasis on the start, teaching their athletes to keep their head down and drive down the track to build up speed. By the time their head comes up, they’re at top speed driving toward the finish line.

“By the time your head comes up, you’re maintaining your speed,” Wallace said. “The problem a lot of runners have is that they get anxious and their head comes up too fast. That can be the difference between winning a race and setting a school record.”

Perhaps the beauty of the sprint is the fact that it has denied limits. When it comes to track and field, at least, the one thing we know about human limits is that humans deny them.

In the 100 meters, the standard keeps going lower.

Since Bob Hayes, who won the 1964 Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, winning times for men have all been under his time of 10.0 seconds.

Usain Bolt won in 2012 in London in a time of 9.63 seconds – almost four-tenths faster than Hayes. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the event in 10.75 seconds, but fell far short of the Olympic record of 10.54 seconds set by American great Florence Griffith-Joyner in Seoul in 1988, who owns the world record at 10.49.

And that is a powerful message to send to athletes following in their footsteps.

You can always go faster.

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