Why do runners "shut it down"?

Saving energy for the final is one thing, but slowing down before the tape in heats looks like a recipe for disaster.


King Kaufman
August 19, 2008 10:45PM (UTC)

A question for you track and field experts, and I know you're out there.

Why do sprinters and hurdlers "shut it down" -- that is, stop running fast -- a few feet from the finish line when they're leading in qualifying heats? I get the idea that the top runners, who figure to advance, don't go all out in the heats because they're saving their energy for the final.

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But that's different than what I've been seeing time and time again in the heats: A runner runs hard enough to be in first or second place near the finish, then starts slowing down about three steps before the tape.

It looks to me like a recipe for being overtaken by two or three battling also-rans and missing out on the medal race for no good reason. I haven't seen that happen yet, although it's possible I've seen it in previous Olympics and forgotten it. I have no mental "save" key for track and field. But I've seen it almost happen several times.

It just can't be that slowing down in the last few strides is a significant energy saver. Like, what, running hard for 42 steps is OK, but you shoot your bolt if you run hard for 45? No way.

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Run just hard enough to qualify, but do it through the tape. Right? What am I missing?


King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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