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I’ve received several emails from readers on what I think Christophe Lemaitre. First, I think it’s refreshing to see young talent (regardless of the colour of his skin) with amazing potential. Hopefully his parents and management team will keep him level headed, just like Alyson Felix. I am glad to see him still in school, too.
It might be easier for me to critique and add to another coach’s comments. In this case, I’ll use UK’s Darren Campbell comments from Tom Fordyce’s article on BBC.
On Overall Thoughts
DC: "You’re born with speed, but you’re not born a perfect sprinter. Lemaitre, with the raw ability and physical attributes he has, he can improve so much. It might sound strange to say it, but from a technique point of view, there’s nothing I look at and think, that’s really good."
I could not agree more. Technically, he could improve a lot more, but when you run 9.98 a few weeks after turning 20 years old, who is to argue? Everyone is born with some speed and leg turnover, thus speed CAN be trained. It’s losing these fast kids to other sports that is the dilemma today.
On his Drive Phase
DC: "Christophe’s drive phase is a work in progress. If you look at Dwain’s races, his foot placements over the first 30 metres are always exactly the same. That’s why he’s so strong in the first part of the race”
"His body position is usually as close to perfect as it can be – perfectly straight, perfectly flat. That gives him maximum strength through his drive phase. If you get your position right and can stay in it, that’s the most effective way to run.
"Christophe’s is not. He comes upright after about 10-15m, which is far too early. Maurice Greene and Ato Boldon were the ones who changed the thinking with the drive phase – remember how low they used to stay, with their heads down? They changed the way sprinters thought.
I agree his foot placements are all over the place. That’s why it’s called raw speed. I noted his 100m race at the French Championships on how he ran one race in 41 strides, and another in 43.
But I think the majority of the coaching world are still living the dogma of the “Maurice Greene drive phase” era. I am referring to stuff like “17 strides in a leaning position, 29 strides upright position” or “40% of your race is leaning and 60% is upright”.
Christophe Lemaitre’s body mechanics and genetics allows him to run fast despite being upright at the 10 meter mark. We all know the ideal body angles based on hypothetical physics, but every body is made differently.
Know your strengths, know your weaknesses, and execute to the best of your ability.
On Transition Phase
DC: "Lemaitre’s transition could be a lot smoother. He pops up to upright suddenly, and although it’s only a small thing, when you’re talking about hundredths of seconds, it makes a difference.
"It affects your rhythm. If you pop up fast, that’s when you feel the wind, and you lose speed, because sprinting is all about momentum and rhythm. When you come up slowly, there’s not that sudden feeling of wind resistance in your face. And once you’re upright, you’re pretty much at top speed. It’s very, very hard to change gear once you’re upright.
Speaking of “17 strides in a leaning position”, if you look at the slo-mo of the video, he actually has his head down and looking down at the track until his 17th step. Just a coincidence, I guess.
I believe your hands have the highest motor skill and control for the human body. So it makes sense to use and control the hands which will control the arms and therefore the entire rhythm for the legs. It’s a lot easier to teach someone to use the hand positions as a cue compared to how close your heels should touch your butt.
The transition phase is no different. I agree, sprinting is all about momentum and rhythm, and that includes the transition phase. Each phase sets you up for the next phase. At the end of the day, you are simply connecting forty-something strides in a single race.
On Running Style
DC: "His running style at full speed is another area where he will improve. He doesn’t rock and roll through his body, but because his foot placements aren’t that consistent, he veers. In the first round he went out to the right hand side of the lane. If you stay straight, you’ll go quicker.
"It might be that he has more power in one leg. It’s almost like a Formula One car – you have to make sure that the power is evenly dispersed.
"I used to practise starting off both legs so one didn’t become stronger than the other. I was even careful about my calf muscles, because your left will get stronger than your right just from using the clutch pedal in your car. That’s how fine a line you are looking at.
One thing is evident and that he is not running relaxed. Check out the strain on his face or his wrinkles on his forehead for the entire race.
Yes, he foot contacts are all over the place, but that’s just a sign of raw speed. He’ll only get better with more years of training volumes and of course, more real time racing at the World Class level.
On Arm Position
DC: "Then we come to his arm position and tracking. They’re not great – you want to keep an angle of 90 degrees at the elbow, and his arm goes quite straight – but they’re not the worst I’ve seen. They don’t go across his body, which is good, because if that happens, your feet strike the ground wider because your arms control what your feet do.
Most world class athletes cannot keep the elbow at 90 degrees on the backswing with the amount of force being generated. It opens up slightly, otherwise the shoulders will tighten, and that will lead to tighter hips and less hip rotation.
Opening up the arms creates a slightly longer pendulum, and thus results in a longer stride. Not a bad thing, as long as you have the leg strength and force to go along with it.
But I disagree with the arms should NOT go across the body. If you watch slo-mo footage of Asafa Powell from the front head-on view, his arms do move across his body. When your body position is fully upright, the arms, or specifically the hands, should be in front of the body near (but not cross) the midline.
On his Build
DC: "Finally there’s his build. He doesn’t even look like a sprinter – he looks like a 400m runner. So straight away there’s muscle he can put on.
"I would focus on bulking up last. You don’t want to bulk up with technical problems, because all you’re doing is teaching those muscles to run in the wrong way. Get the technique right first."
Standing behind his blocks, his name about to be announced to the crowd. Lemaitre looked unfeasibly fresh-faced, down to the fluffy teenage wannabe-moustache on his top lip. Just how fast could the fully matured man go?"
"I think he’s capable of low 9.9s. If he can eradicate these small things, why shouldn’t he? Beyond a certain point, sprinting is learnt. It’s practising and rehearsing and working on the right things in training. He has all the natural materials he needs."
Since I am biased towards the 400 meters, of course I would love to see him run a 400 meters down the road especially with his 200 meter strength and 100 meter speed. But I’ll save that fantasy for another article.