Luka Janežič (born in 1995) is a Slovenian sprinter and one of the biggest talents this country has ever produced. In 2015 he exceeded some expectations by making it to the Beijing World Championships in Athletics and then running 45.28 in the 400m, lowering the national record of 45.43 held from 1999 by Matija Šestak. This year he went even further by making it to the semi-finals at the Olympics and running faster than he ever did before. A time of 45.07 was enough for a 17th place overall among 24 semi-finalists. This article is an analysis of his run in Rio.
I first saw him run the 400m in 2013 at a meet in Velenje. His time of 47.64 was nothing special by international standards, but we have to be aware of the fact that the then only 17-year old youngster was still mainly specializing in the shorter sprints ranging from 60m indoors to 200m outdoors. It was more than obvious that he possessed massive potential and that the run in Velenje was one of his first serious experiments with the longest and toughest sprinting distance.
As soon as I saw him cross the finish line I was convinced that he should abandon the shorter sprints and focus on the 200m and 400m. His team and coach Rok Predanič (an excellent former sprinter in his own right) must have come to a similar conclusion and in the last three years Luka Janežič has become a true 400m specialist. His height, power and natural speed allow him to develop a truly formidable running stride. It’s a killer combination that currently makes him one of the best one lap sprinters in the world.
I recently made a stride analysis of the newly crowned Olympic champion and world record holder Wayde van Niekerk. I compared his running style with the previous record holder, Michael Johnson, and two of his main rivals, Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt.
I now made the same analysis for Luka Janežič and – mainly just for fun – I also decided to compare him with van Niekerk, so we can see some of the main differences between our national record holder and the fastest man of all time.
The following tables are overviews of each of their respectable runs. We have the 100m split for each of the four 100m sections, the cumulative time up until that point (example: 32.8 seconds at the 300m mark). Then we have the number of strides for each 100m section and total strides up until that point (example: 122.7 strides at the 300m mark). Frequency is in strides per second and average length is the average stride length in meters for each 100m section.
Note: The splits aren’t official and should be rounded to tenths instead of one hundredths of a second like I wrote in the table and chart. I used my own methods to estimate the splits the best I could by analyzing 1080p, 50 fps videos of the race, but it’s impossible to get conclusive and 100% correct splits.
I’m very impressed with the way Janežič held on in the second half of the race. It’s evident that he had paced himself very well because his slowdown is very mild and linear. This indicates a smart race plan and great execution.
3) Stride Frequency (steps per second)
Janežič has a relatively low stride frequency, even when compared with all the athletes that appeared in this year’s Olympic 400m final … [continued in the next two chapters]
4) Number of Strides & Stride Length
His stride, on the other hand, is very long. 166 strides for the whole 400 meters is an extremely small number. And in the first 100 meters Janežič even manages to make the same (small) number of strides as van Niekerk, but the latter covers the same distance 0.5 seconds faster than Janežič. How is this possible? The only viable explanation I can come up with is that Janežič has a longer ground contact time.
The second 100m sector is where every 400m athlete reaches their top speed and their maximum average stride length.
2.6 meters is a phenomenal stride length and it’s something that very few athletes can achieve. In this regard it’s definitely helpful to be a tall 400m sprinter.
Wayde van Niekerk has by far the biggest stride/height ratio of all the athletes I’ve analyzed so far. [To do this we simply take the stride length and divide it by body height. Every sprinter should have a much longer stride length than what his height is.] It’s amazing what he can achieve while being shorter than his rivals, but I’m equally impressed by the incredible 2.41 meters average stride length of Janežič. He has an average stride length that is 1.255 (rounded to 1.26) times larger than his height (1.255 x 1.92m = 2.41m).
- Janežič has a very long stride, but his stride length relative to his body height is somewhere in the average when compared to his rivals,
- judging by his stride length and frequency his ground contact time is probably slightly longer than those of his rivals, which results in a slightly different way of force production,
- judging by his splits he has great speed endurance.
Janežič might run much faster in the future if he manages to improve his raw speed without sacrificing speed endurance. A sub 45.00 time is definitely on the horizon.
His performance in Rio was great and I’m proud that he didn’t succumb to the pressure of competing on the biggest stage. Reaching the semi-finals and doing as well as he did at the Olympics in such a competitive event is praiseworthy.
I consider this to be the best track result of Slovenian athletics since Matic Osovnikar’s 7th place in the 100m final at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka.
I’m glad that, despite all its shortcomings, Slovenia still has the right personnel and proper expertise to nurture talents like Luka Janežič into world class athletes.
Žiga P. Škraba
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