The science of speed: determinants of performance in the 100 m sprint

Yannis Pitsiladis, Anthony Davis, Dennis Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The athletic events at the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing will be remembered most for the 100 m world-record winning time by Jamaican Sprinter Usain Bolt. Despite this interest and fascination with the 100 m sprint event, there have only been a few studies that have investigated the factors limiting elite sprint performance. Therefore, it is timely that Majumdar and Robergs present an interesting review of the multiple determinants of the 100 m sprint event. Specifically, the objectives of their review are to “identify the features of the 100 m sprint that make it such an iconic event, and summarize the multifaceted determinants to sprint running performance so that understanding and commentary on performance can be based on science rather than speculation or personal bias” (p. 480). As would be expected, much of their review focuses on describing the main determinants of the 100 m sprint such as factors influencing the sprint start, the acceleration phase and maximum running velocity. The authors summarise most of the scarce research in this area and one is struck by the many contradictions within this limited literature; further studies are therefore essential. A significant emphasis of the review by Majumdar and Robergs is dedicated to explaining the timelines of the 100 m sprint records depicted in Figure 2 (p. 487) and the authors conclude that the improvements noted in the 100 m sprint record in recent years (in the men’s race only) are due primarily to the human-related factors summarized in their review and not a result of advances in technology associated with the 100 m (e.g., the use of synthetic tracks). This conclusion may indeed be correct, but the authors do not present any data from studies investigating the effects of technology on sprint performance. The authors appear to base their conclusion not on empirical data, as no such data appear to exist, but on historical accounts of the technological advances over the period of the modern-day Olympics. Given the scope/objectives of this review, it is surprising that the authors make no reference to factors that we and many others would argue are of even greater importance in explaining the timelines of the records depicted in Figure 1 of their review, but also the records listed in Tables 1 and 2; in particular why only sprinters from Jamaica and the USA (with the exception of the Christine Aaron from France, Table 2) make up the top-10 men’s and women’s all-time 100 m sprint times. In this commentary, we briefly summarize the key factors influencing sprint performance that were omitted from the review by Majumdar and Robergs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)495-498
Number of pages4
JournalInternational Journal of Sports Science and Coaching
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2011


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