Ben Johnson's Peaking


One of the most intriguing aspects I see when comparing recent sprint performances in Bolt, Powell, Gay, and even Maurice Greene to Ben is that they are/were running significantly faster and closer to their PRs throughout the outdoor season than Ben.

If we look at Ben’s best performances in 9.79 and 9.83, we see that his SBs up to that point are MUCH slower. Over a tenth slower, in fact (even though he slowed down in 9.79 and stumbled in 9.83). Most of his outdoor races, even during his best years, are in the 10.0mid/high-10.1 region. On the other hand, guys like Powell are running under 10 dozens of times with ease (looking like they are literally jogging), while running comparable absolute bests (and if you look at times to 60m, maybe no difference).

What would you attribute to causing this to happen? Was it the triple periodization versus the apparently single periodization many of these programs seem to be following? Is it due the nature of the volumes of speed work you were doing versus more recent programs? Or maybe psychological factors?

Any information on this would be appreciated.

Not as simple as that because we can know how Ben arranged his program but can’t be certain of all the program details of the others. As well, the tracks are certainly faster now than they were in Ben’s time. The change occured in 1991 with startling changes in performances, mostly centered around improvements over the first 30m. Ben’s clearly superior accel over all contemporary rivals would only place him near the front now, even though his top speed and 60m overall times still hold up.
Greater energy losses over the early race stages cost over the final segments. This can be seen by the fact that, while the 60s remained relatively close together in Ben’s indoor season and outdoor splits, the 100m times required a major taper to maximise.
I would suspect that was true for most contemporaries because whatever Ben’s times along the way, he was completely dominant throughout a three year period.

Very interesting, Charlie.

Now, you say it took a major taper to maximize the SE since more energy was being spent 0-30m. Is this to say that the overall result (besides the 0-30m segment) would be about the same, but it takes longer to get there (ie major taper needed)?

Does the focus on certain aspects of aerobic development (through the altitude tents ala Chambers, various supplements, etc.) play a role, you think, in this as well?

No I’m not. If Ben was running on the modern tracks, his average would go down across the board but the difference due to the taper we used would remain constant.
I don’t think any of the altitude variability has had a chance to have an effect yet as it’s new used in that way. Previous use of altitude prep by the East Germans was inconclusive, perhaps in part because of the food poisonings that bedevilled them in Mexico City.