Usain Bolt – Long jumper?

Sergiu Vidican

Written by Sergiu Vidican
Posted in: Science
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Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world, and that is a fact. He proved this by winning the competition at the 2008 Olympics and by winning the two world Championships in 2009. This is an amazing accomplishment but Bolt is not satisfied. He wants more and he wants to prove that he is the best in other domains as well. His main task is to win the 400 meters race, competition in which he participated at the beginning of the year. Many believe that he is capable of winning the race, and many also believe that he can beat the world record which was set by Michael Johnson, that being 43.18 seconds. The record was set 11 years ago and since them no one managed to beat it.
Another competition in which Bolt would like to participate would be the long jump. The athlete is confident in his abilities, but many people doubt him. A team of scientists made some analyses and predicted approximately how long Bolt would be able to jump in this competition. In the long jump just like in all the sprinting events, the most important thing is the explosive power. In the long jump event the participants have to sprint for 40 meters before jumping into the sand pit.

A board marks the foul line, and if the athlete passed it with his foot, then the jump does not count. Because of this, it is not too difficult to realize why Usain Bolt might be very good at this event. The speed with which you start is very important in this event and since Bolt has lots of explosive power, he has very high chances of jumping a very long distance. Or, at least in theory.

At the 2009 Athletic Championship which was held in Berlin, Bolt managed to top 12ms-1 at the 40 meter mark in the 100. This means that the speed was 15% greater than his regular velocity. Kinematics would help us estimate the length of his possible jump as long as he would be able to maintain the same velocity during the “take off” of the event. Using a series of mathematical formulations and equations, the experts estimated that Usain would be able to jump 14.68 meters.

The world record in this event which was set in 1991 is 8.95 meters and it was set by Mike Powell. I should tell you that the equations which I mentioned before do not take in consideration the velocity which is lost during the take-off phase of the event, the difference in height between the take-off and the landing, and the optimum angle at which Usain should start the jump. The equation demonstrates thought that the distance of the long jump is strongly influenced by the take off velocity. The faster the take off velocity is, the longer the jump will be.

In order to obtain a better and more accurate estimation of the jump that Bolt would be able to perform one would have to create a detailed kinematic model suitable for the long jump. Luckily such a model has been created by Tan and Zumerchik. This model is pretty accurate as it can solve some important issues related to the process of jumping. First of all, the model is able to take in consideration the energy which is lost when the athlete goes from a horizontal velocity to a vertical velocity. The model can also present the changes which occur in the height of the center of mass of the long jumper.

The team of experts used this information in order to estimate how much Usain Bolt would be able to jump. Usain Bolt is 1.93m tall which means that his regular distance to centre of mass will be 0.965 m whereas the distance to centre of mass at landing will be approximately 0.6 m. Based on the model; calculations were made related to the world record which has been set in 1991. The initial running speed of Mike Powell was 11 ms-1 and the angle which he used for the jump was 33.06°.

Based on these calculations means that Usain’s take off velocity would be with about 1 ms-1 higher than the one which Mike Powell had. The calculations also revealed that Usain would be able to jump at an angle of 33.24°, that his take off speed would be 9.98ms-1, and that he would be able to jump approximately 10.50 meters. As a result this means that Usain Bolt would be able to beat the world record by 1.55m. If this is correct then it would be an extraordinary achievement.

There are many people who doubt this, saying that such an increase of the World record would be impossible, but they forget that some years ago most of the people thought that it would be impossible for a person to run below 9.58 seconds in the 100 meters event. Usain Bolt would not be the first athlete who would participate in two such events. Marion Jones participated in both of the events, where she jumped 7.31m, and she ran the 100 meters in 10.65 seconds. Jesse Owens did the same and he had a jump of 8.13 meters and a 10.2 seconds finish.

Carl Lewis did the same and what is interesting is the fact that the calculations were not very accurate. Lewis managed to jump 8.91 meters in the 1991 competition, whereas the calculations predicted that he would be able to jump 9.69 meters. This means that the calculations were off with 78 centimeters, and that is a very big distance. Lewis jumped 4 centimeters shorter than Mike Powell; imagine how much 78 centimeters is then. Bolt would not have any problems with the initial part of the event, when he has to run the 40 meters; however the second part where he has to transfer his energy into the jump would be much more difficult as he is not used with the movement.11

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