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Olympic sprinter gains speed with simulations

The simulation software overlays a digital model onto a video of Jetter running to show her where her body needs to be so she can go faster in her next race. Image courtesy, the Washington Post.

If you thought pure human physical ability played the biggest part in the world record-breaking performances at the London 2012 Olympic Games, think again. Advanced computer models are helping some runners shave seconds off their fastest times, making the difference between getting a silver or gold medal in competitive athletics.

Carmelita Jeter, a US sprinter, trains with the help of software focused on the mechanics of sprinting, developed by Ralph Mann, US Track and Field’s sprint and hurdle bio-mechanist. Mann applies engineering principles to make the body go faster. His software is used to study visualizations of Jetter's most efficient running form. This information helps renowned elite sprinter coach, John Smith, to hone Jetter's sprinting technique - this can involve Jetter making minute changes while running at five steps per second.

“I take the scientific data and complex information and simplify it. Science is pragmatic data to help us understand what happened,” Smith said in the Washington Post video.

The software uses complex computer models to show Jetter’s ideal body position in every phase of a race via a digital stickman, or in this case, ‘stickwoman’. In most cases, this model is set to run faster than the world record. The position where Jeter places her foot is the part that Mann and Smith work on the most closely. The model shows where she should land correctly in order to push into the next step to get the most power, representing her goal to win 100-meter races.

“The diagram shows you where you should be and it’s really neat,” said Jeter in the Washington Post video. At the London 2012 Olympic Games she won a silver medal in the women’s 100-meter race.

- Adrian Giordani

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