Sports Zone

THE 400-METER SPRINTS: ‘I see the ball and I hit the ball’

Watching the 400-meter race, I always imagine where I would be when the winner crosses the finish line. At my fastest (years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth), I would have been lucky to get to 150 meters as the elite runners would be hitting the tape. An enjoyable part of being a sports fan is drifting into fantasy or hearkening back to your own glory days.
There was a fierce-hitting baseball player for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s named Tony Pérez, who is now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In baseball, hitters, even more so after they retire, give detailed explanations of their approach to the science.
In today’s analytics-driven world, there are teams of experts who break down every aspect of hitting (and track and field) into hundreds of situational parameters. But when asked his secret to being a great hitter, Tony kept it simple: ”I see the ball and I hit the ball.”
Adapting Tony’s beautiful simplicity to track and field: speed is speed; some have it and some don’t.
The 400m sprint has eight athletes moving faster than I could ever dream of running!
It’s the longest race in which runners must remain in their lane – no laps, no baton handoffs – and it’s long enough that you see and feel the dynamics and drama.
As runners exit the final turn, you see runners gasping for air as their will and hearts overcome their bodies’ ”check engine light” warning systems.
In the home straightaway, you can tell who has run out of gas and who has enough energy to kick their way to the tape.
The best part? What I enjoy most is that it takes less than a minute.

‘I see the race and I watch the race’
The racers start in a stagger; boom, the gun goes off and then it is one lap around the track, through the turns, and a high-octane finish down the stretch!
In the 400, you see graceful runners moving with elegance and power. The 400 is considered the hardest of all the sprints. There is an elaborate body of analytics explaining the training and tactics that produce a successful 400 runner.
First, you’d better start with formidable genetics and a body suited to the demands of the sport. After that, 400 runners undergo rigorous training to achieve stamina, strength and refined technique. Even the great Usain Bolt is reputed to have said he wanted no part of the rigorous training required for the 400.
Elite runners and coaches break the race into four segments. First, the acceleration phase; second, the speed phase; third, the coast phase; and fourth, the reacceleration and drive to the finish line.
Most of that has to do with the realities and limitations of the human body. If you’re an elite runner or someone coaching one, you understand those things on a deeper level; human performance relies on science these days.
All agree you cannot sprint at top speed for the entire race, nor can you race the 400 all the time because it wears your body down. Therefore, 400 runners have to time their training to peak at precisely the right time.

Otis Davis walked on to the University of Oregon Track & Field team in 1958. Two years later, he barely made the U.S. Olympic Team and was still learning how to run the 400-meter race on his way to the Olympics in Rome.
He must have been a fast study because, in those Olympics, Davis broke the world record, becoming the first person in history to run under 45 seconds. He then anchored the world record-breaking 4×400-meter relay team for his second gold medal.
Said Davis, ”I just figured I’d run as fast as I could run.”
After returning to Oregon, Davis became a teacher, and today, at age 87, he lives and works in Union City, New Jersey schools where he inspires young people to be active. Davis often says, ”A higher power wrote the script of my life. I’m just fulfilling my part.”

There is little overlap in sprinters. While numerous runners can compete at an elite level in both the 100 and 200 meters, and others do so in the 200 and 400, few can do so at all three sprint distances. One who has is the most successful runner in World Games history, Allyson Felix.

World Athletics
100 Top USA 200m
Phyllis Francis
Wadeline Jonathas
Shakima Wimbley
Kendall Ellis
Jaide Stepter
Bold= University of Oregon
Fred Kerley
Michael Norman
Kahmari Montgomery
Michael Cherry
Nathan Strother

Mark your calendars
Be sure to mark down these dates at the Trials:
Preliminary rounds
Semifinal rounds



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