Usain Bolt False Start: Evidence for Heightened Awareness?

The are nearly over, but not without a little bit of controversy. Particularly, in the men’s 100m final that is. I’ve embedded a short 2-minute clip of the false start.

After watching the video, it’d be pretty hard not to agree with the decision that did false start (and based on the , should be disqualified). While some people , some other people took a little closer look at the footage of the race. In fact, some people don’t think that Bolt was the first one who moved! Take a look:

You might find it a little difficult to see on the video (on the TV), but what this fellow is saying seems to be accurate to me. You can watch the actual footage from the race () and pay close attention to the 0:13 mark. You can see the runner on the (left-side of the screen) flinch before Bolt false starts.

You can read about the running implications on some of the articles I’ve linked to earlier in this post or even in the video of the fellow attempting to exonerate Bolt. I’m more interested in the implications of this for heightened awareness.

There’s a concept in psychology that’s known as “.” There are other “colloquial” terms for this concept. : “on the ball; in the moment; present; in the zone; wired in; in the groove; keeping your head in the game.” Flow is often something associated with sports, but it is a concept that can be transferred to any human activity where one “is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.” Music is often cited in flow studies, along with religious/spiritual experience. Gamers and coders often describe experiences that could be considered “flow.”

I can’t say this with certainty, but in my review of the literature, I haven’t come across a journal article on flow that specifically studies the body. Most flow studies I have read focus on the brain (of course, a part of the body) and what’s going on in the mind. This is logical given the definition we cited earlier. However, when I first saw the Usain Bolt video, the first thing I thought of was flow. Usain Bolt is a rather gifted athlete and many gifted athletes, whether they know it or not, participate in their sport, while in a state of flow.

I suspect that when humans experience a state of flow, not only are they in an energized focus (mentally), but physically, too. And when this physical focus arises, I would bet that their senses are heightened. Baseball players who are on a hot streak (at the plate) often talk about being able to see the ball really well. Almost as if the ball is slowing down when it gets to them. We could say that this is a heightened sense of awareness. In a way, it (sounds) like they are able to slow down time. In essence, this could be as a result of their heightened awareness.

Because of Usain Bolt’s chosen sport of sprinting, there is a hyper-focus on quick movements, especially at the starter’s block. The runner’s have to wait for the sound that signals the start of the race and then go! As humans are complex systems, it is unreasonable to expect that runner’s rely solely on their auditory ability to know when to go. In fact, I would almost guarantee that runners also take in visual cues from their neighboring runners. “If the person next to me goes, then I better start running.” Of course, this is not something that is taking place cognitively. That is, the runner isn’t consciously deliberating as to when to go because of when the person next to him goes.” This is something that has to take place in the subconscious.

One more piece to add to this is the body. I mentioned this briefly earlier, but then went on to talk about the visual cues. Not only are we (as humans) taking in information through our eyes and ears, but it could also be said that we also take in information through our body. (Some may argue that this information is actually entering through our eyes/ears, but just at a level that is immeasurable with the current scientific tools, but I digress.) Taking in information through our body — through sensing the space around us. For a tangible example, you could think of a blind person. Yes, they rely on their ears to help them navigate the world, but there’s also an intangible that allows them to know what’s around.

Tying this into the race that we have witnessed: Yohan Blake flinches (ever so slightly) and I would argue that Usain Bolt, as a result of being in a state of flow, and with a heightened sense of awareness, noticed this movement, and consequently, began the race.

Published by Jeremiah Stanghini

Jeremiah's primary aim is to provide readers with a new perspective. In the same vein as the "Blind Men and the Elephant," it can be difficult to know when one is looking at the big picture or if one is simply looking at a 'tusk' or a 'leg.' He writes on a variety of topics: psychology, business, science, entertainment, politics, history, etc.

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