Usain Bolt. Fast Man. Gold Shoes.

Dan Murphy July 19, 2012 0
Usain Bolt. Fast Man. Gold Shoes.

This is the fifth in a series of articles leading up to the start of the 2012 Olympics in London on July 27. Each will highlight an athlete and the aspects of his or her sport that make it an example of great design. Today, Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt.

Olympic Sprinter Usain Bolt


There are a few precious summer Olympic performances that became iconic almost at the very moment they happened. It’s hard to forget Michael Phelps outreaching Milorad Cavic to win the 100-meter butterfly in 2008, or Michael Johnson blazing a world-record time in the 200-meter run at the ’96 Olympics shod in metallic gold shoes.

But it’s hard to argue that any Olympian has ever exploded onto the international sports scene and become a pop culture icon in quite the way that Usain Bolt did at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

The Jamaican managed the most impressive sprinting wins in Olympic history by claiming gold with world-record times in both the 100 and 200. Bolt was so far ahead in the 100 that even after celebrating with outstretched arms and a pounding of his chest 15 meters from the finish, he was able to beat the second-place finisher by .20 seconds (an eternity in world-class sprinting) with an astounding time of 9.69 seconds. His winning time of 19.30 in the 200 was equally easy (Shawn Crawford of the United States turned in a second-place time of 19.96).


Usain Bolt, Jamaican Olympics Sprinter


Bolt added to his legacy at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin by smashing his own world records in the 100 (9.58) and 200 (19.19).

The aptly named Bolt isn’t constructed like the average sprinter and that may lend to his great design. His muscular frame stands 6-foot-5, much taller than average Olympic-caliber sprinters. (By comparison Johnson and Olympic great Carl Lewis stood 6-1 and 6-2, respectively.)

Bolt doesn’t get out of the starting blocks as quickly as some runners, but once he gets upright and his long legs are at full stride he accelerates ridiculously fast. If he’s at all hindered by his height at the start of a sprint, he clearly makes up for it shortly after the starting gun.


The sprints are the glamour events of the Olympics. Pure athleticism is on display in short bursts of astonishing speed. The winner is decided in the purest and simplest terms—the fastest athlete wins.

The great design is in the balance of explosive speed, and the efficiency required by every muscle. Any extraneous movement can slow the runner down ever so slightly in races where the top three places are separated by the blink of an eye.


Olympic sprinting, Usain Bolt


The 100 is a test of quickness. Legs muscles fire like pistons and feet grab the track briefly before rocketing the runner forward and repeating the process. The race is over less than 10 seconds after it starts with runners lunging toward the finish line while still pounding out perfect strides. The fastest, like Bolt, reach speeds up to 27 miles per hour.

The 200 requires a runner to maintain that breakneck speed for twice as long, and negotiate a curve for the first 100 meters of the race. At first glance stamina may not seem to be a key factor for those running for just 20 seconds, but legs can begin to burn when the runner hits the straightaway at the halfway point.



Usain Bolt Olympic Facts


Video: Usain Bolt, Olympics Sprinter

Summer Olympic Series - Original Content at

Brady Ellison

Holley Mangold

Jessica Ennis

Jordyn Wieber

Usain Bolt