Why Do Sprinters Ease Up in the Last 10 Meters?

My favorite track-and-field event to watch is the 100-meter dash. It’s short, it’s thrilling, and it’s the event I can relate most to: I was a speed specialist when I played soccer in high school, and I spent my final offseason running the 55m in indoor track.

Over many years of watching this event, I’ve noticed one commonality: The sprinter(s) in the lead tend to ease up in the last 10 meters. Their stride distinctly changes, and they often either look at the sidelines for their time or they lean into the finish. The result seems to be the lost of precious tenths of a second.

You can even see Usain Bolt do this in the last 5 meters of his world record 9.58-second dash. I think he could have achieved 9.50 or even slightly less if he had maintained his stride a little longer.

I would think that a sprinter at this level would pretend the finish line is 5-10 meters beyond the actual finish line to avoid this problem. My guess it that this isn’t a matter of physical exertion–these sprinters can keep stride for up to 200 meters–rather, it’s psychological. You’re near the end of the race and you’re winning, so you coast at the end. I probably did this myself without realizing it.

Have you noticed this? Why do you think it happens?

2 thoughts on “Why Do Sprinters Ease Up in the Last 10 Meters?”

  1. I think it probably depends whose in the field/how strong the field is. If there is a clear favourite, such as Usain, I agree that if the leader is clearly ahead of the pack they seem to have a sixth sense that they are well ahead/going to win and just naturally ease back – perhaps it’s the excitement that all the training has paid off and they just coast those last few metres to take in win. I think there have been some runners over the years, not naming names, who have been a bit arrogant and almost do it to rub it into the opposition that they are clearly better and use those last few metres to almost strut across the line like a peacock “The Look at Me Syndrome”.

    I also ran the 100m at school and was always told to run full steam until you had crossed the line and to stick you chest out to cross the line/break the tape – but with the photo finish technology it now seems that whatever bit of your body you can get across the line first wins you the race.

    I haven’t watched the 100m for awhile, but it was always my favourite race to watch at the Olympics – I used to like the Scotsman Alan Wells back in the early 80’s – Olympic Champion in 1980.

    • The goal-line “strut” is a good way of putting it, Stuart. 🙂 It’s neat to hear you were also a sprinter!


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