Thursday, March 15, 2012

World Champion Kirani James (and his left leg)

The New York Times had an article yesterday: A Young Sprinter's Ups and Downs on the Way to the Top by Christopher Clarey on the 2011 World Champion 400-meter runner Kirani James. He is fast and talented and won his gold medal in Daegu, South Korea at the young age of 18 years old. The article touches on Kirani's life as an athlete from the small Carribean island of Grenada and his life as a full time college student trying to prepare for an Olympic showdown with American's Jeremy Wariner and LeShawn Merritt. It an interesting article on the tall 6' 3" runner who I saw perform at the Boston Indoor Games in February, but what really intrigued me in the article was Kirani talking about his (and his father's) wayward  left foot. Kirani says:

Our hips face inwards so our knees face inwards, and the leg sways outside — just to explain that in a nutshell.

Well, that is exactly how I have been describing my own left leg and hip issues for years. I have something very much in common with Kirani James. Of course, this doesn't explain why he is fast and I am slow! I have always used this as the reason for my poor sprinting ability, but I guess it is just that I am all slow-twitch muscle and Kirani has all the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Anyhow it is interesting to find someone describing a problem that is similar sounding to mine, particularly when that person is a World Champion. I will have to see how this looks on Kirani while he is running, but he goes so fast it is hard to see exactly what his leg is doing. What does Kirani and his coaches say about his left foot and leg? Here is a fuller section from the article:

Several coaches, including Jacques Borlée of Belgium, whose sons compete in the 400, have suggested that James might need to modify his technique if he wants to reach his full potential and avoid injury. They focus on his left foot, which strays outward when it lands.

“The first time I met Kirani he walked over to me from one of his age-group track meets,” Glance said. “Of course the first thing in my mind as a coach is ‘Wow, look at that left foot!’ Well then I realized that that is just the way it is. There’s a cardinal rule: If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. That’s always been my philosophy. I will never forget when Michael Johnson first came on the scene. He had this swayback running style and everyone said: ‘Hey we’ve got to change that. If we change that, he’ll run so much better.”’
“By the end of his story, he’s the fastest 400-meter guy who ever lived,” Glance added.
Johnson’s world record of 43.18 seconds, set in 1999, still looks impregnable. But James, now 19, is already the third-fastest outdoors after his time of 44.36 seconds in Zurich last year and is third-fastest indoors at 44.8.
“Everyone has their opinions, and there is just certain stuff you can’t change,” said James, who said his left-foot issue came from his father’s side of the family. “Our hips face inwards so our knees face inwards, and the leg sways outside — just to explain that in a nutshell. But there are little things that I have to work on, like wrist movement and stuff like that. But to make any significant changes? I don’t think I have to, and I just have to believe in my training and believe in myself and believe in my coaching.”
I hope Kirani James does well in London this summer and has a long and healthy career. I also hope that his foot and leg don't  create problems for him down the line with his hip and mechanics.

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