Why do runners pull up at the end? And other Track and Field FAQ’s

Jamaica's Usain Bolt, center, and Canada's Andre De Grasse, left, compete in a men's 200-meter semifinal during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(WTNH)–If you’ve been watching the track and field events at the Olympics this past week, you’ve probably noticed some things that seem a little strange.

Runners pulling up at the end of their heats and semifinal races, instead of running hard through the line. Those same runners wearing chains and bracelets, even fake hair and earrings.

How do you run like that? Seriously though.

We asked University of New Haven track and field coaches Logan Sharpe and Shaunnaya Williams and Yale Director of Track and Cross Country David Shoehalter to give us some insight on what’s going on at the track in Rio.

Was Bahamas sprinter Shaunae Miller's dive at the end of the women's 200-meter race fair game? We asked the coaches. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Was Bahamas sprinter Shaunae Miller’s dive at the end of the women’s 200-meter race fair game? We asked the coaches. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Why do runners pull up near the finish line at the end of heats? Well, the coaches say it’s to conserve energy.

“After a long day, and you may have trials, qualifying heats, semifinals, every bit of energy you can save can help,” said Williams.

Williams said that in shorter events like the 100 meter or 200, it may not matter as much, but in the longer distances, pulling up can help.

Yale coach David Shoehalter says he wouldn’t advise his sprinters to do it.

“I think there’s a way to do it,” he said. “I think what you’re seeing is a lot of them showing off a little bit.”

Shoehalter says the legendary Usain Bolt shuts it down the right way, slowing up with about 80 meters to go in the 200-meter race, when he knows he can coast a little bit and still end up winning the heat.

He said U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin was trying to show off when he slowed up at the end of a 200-meter semifinal, which caused him to fail to qualify for the final.

“Sprinters often have huge egos,” he said. “I think some of them do it to show that they’re so fast, they don’t have to run all the way through, and I think that’s what happened with Gatlin. And it cost him.”

Shoehalter says he thinks Bolt has done a lot for interest in track and field.

“He’s the greatest sprinter of all time,” he said. “What he’s done from Beijing to London to now is really unprecedented. The longevity and the ease with which he’s done it is amazing.”

Williams wasn’t as high on Bolt.

“There’s no doubt that he’s a great athlete,” she said. “Clearly unstoppable at this time. But there are other athletes who are doing just as well in their events who don’t get the same media attention that he does.”

UNH men’s track and field coach Logan Sharpe thinks the fact that Bolt excels in sprints gives him the opportunity to be a bigger star.

“The 100 meter, the 200 meter are big events for television. It’s not the same with distance running or jumping, where in the distance events you may not even see the entire race, in jumping you just see the jumps,” he said.

Williams said Bolt reminds her of LeBron James (he did do the LeBron celebration after winning the 200-meter), and says she doesn’t like some of his theatrics.

“I want my athletes to be humble,” she said.

As for Shaunae Williams, the Bahamian runner who edged American Allyson Felix in the 400-meter dash by diving across the line, neither coach was a huge fan of the move.

“To me, in track and field, you win by running to the line. But they were going for the gold, and she did what she had to do to get there,” Williams said. “It’s not against the rules but I wouldn’t advise my runners to do that.”

Sharpe offered that it could have been that Williams’ legs locked up, causing her to fall.

Finally, as for the necklaces and bracelets that many athletes choose to wear, none of the coaches we spoke to felt that wearing them would slow a runner down.

“To me personally, it would be a mental distraction,” Shoehalter said. “But I wouldn’t tell one of our athletes that they couldn’t wear them.”

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