By Jimson Lee
In 2011, Jamaica had seven 100-meter sprinters under 10 seconds, the Holy Grail for the distance. So did the United States. But Jamaica has just 2.8 million people compared to 312 million for the U.S. Yet its sprinters have surpassed Americans at the top levels of the premier event in track and field.
The obvious question is, how could Jamaica, with less than 1 percent of the population of the US, dominate the 100 meters in recent years after Americans dominated it for decades? Think about the history of the 4×100-meter relay. With so much depth, Team USA would typically win with 4 of their best sprinters, sometimes even with their 5th- and 6th- ranked sprinters. Not any more.
Many people credit Jamaica’s achievements to noted American coach Bud Winter.
Bud invented the science of sprinting. He often said, “Speed is a skill, sprinting is a science.”
Born into a poor family in San Francisco and a Cal Berkeley grad, Bud Winter coached at San Jose State University from 1940 to 1970. SJS became known as “Speed City” in the late 1960s in large part because its athletes held every world sprint record from the 50 through the 400. Those records included the relays with legendary sprinters Tommie Smith, Lee Evans, and John Carlos all on the same team.
In all, Coach Winter produced 37 world-record holders, 49 NCAA records, and 27 Olympians including Smith, Evans, Carlos, Ronnie Ray Smith, and Ray Norton, to name just a few. Bud also coached Greece’s Christos Papanikolaou, the first man to pole vault 18 feet.
In his 1956 book (re-released in 2010) So You Want to be a Sprinter, Bud identified the three ways to run faster:
- Increase stride length
- Increase stride frequency or turnover
- Increase speed endurance, or the ability to maintain optimum speed
The book also describes in detail eight “sprint form” drills anyone can do as part of the daily workout to improve sprinting form.
Bud Winter is especially well-known for his development of techniques to enable anyone to “relax under the pressure of combat.” He taught the ability to relax and sleep anywhere, anytime under the sound of heavy gunfire to carrier pilots in WWII and then applied the same ability to his athletes. He outlined the details in his 1981 book Relax and Win, re-released in 2012. Many coaches in the post-Bud Winter era use the concepts outlined in his books. Perhaps many more should.
Bud didn’t keep the secrets of the “science of sprinting” to himself. Jamaican SJS alumnus and 100-meter world record holder Dennis Johnson invited Bud to Jamaica for a series of training seminars in 1966. In attendance was a young man named Glen Mills. As a youngster, Mills wanted to be a sprinter. But he soon realized he didn’t have the genetic gifts to be a world-class athlete, so he turned his attention to coaching. Mills would later become Usain Bolt’s coach after the 2004 Athens Olympics, and the rest is history with his 9.69 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 9.58 at the 2009 Berlin World Championships. Johnson’s quote from a 2008 interview says it all: “Mills is more Bud than Bud himself.”
Mills’s success didn’t start with Bolt. One of his athletes, Raymond Stewart, ran in three consecutive Olympic 100-meter finals from 1984 to 1992. If you look at Mills’s roster of sprinters on the Racers Track Club website, you will be amazed at the large number of professional elite athletes.
A key part of Mills’s success has been his focus on teaching his sprinters how to “relax under the pressure of combat” using Bud Winter’s proven techniques. Usain Bolt’s clowning around to spectators before the start of his races demonstrates his relaxation. And take a look at Yohan Blake, who won the 100 meters at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. A few weeks later, his 19.26 200 meters—the second-fastest all-time—was another eye-opener to many people.
In addition to science-based coaching, Mills is considered to be the best sprint technician in the world.
By combining a great genetic pool with “sprint-science” training, technical excellence, and proven relaxation techniques, Glen Mills has helped Jamaica earn its way to the Number One spot in the world of elite sprinting.
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