Ken Jakalski has thought a great deal about the mechanics of speed throughout his thirty-seven years coaching career, but it wasn’t until two paralympians, then World Sprint Champion Tony Volpentest and future World Sprint Champion Marlon Shirley competed on his high school track in Lisle, Illinois back in 1997 that his thinking really began in earnest.
How could an athlete with no lower arms and no feet run a time faster than 97% of every able bodied high school athlete Jakalski ever coached?
Conventional insights at the time would say that athletes push back against the ground in order to go forward horizontally. But if this were indeed the case, how was it possible for a sprinter, limited to carbon graphite keel bars that bolted to lower leg prosthesis, to push back against the ground?
And what about all the insights on the swinging arms contributing to faster speeds? Volpentest had to rest his stumps on padded paint cans just to start a race. Why wasn’t his arms impacting on his speed if, as many believed, correct arm action was essential to successful sprinting?
It was his pursuit of answers to these questions that led Jakalski to the human locomotion labs at Harvard and Rice University. And the answers he received have made all the difference in the way he has approached training over the past ten years.
Jakalski’s process of learning by questioning is at the heart of The Book of Zoom, a compilation of answers to key questions coaches have asked him over the past several years, coaches who, like him, wanted a scientific understanding of the means by which athletes can achieve faster speeds.
In the words of SMU’s Dr. Peter Weyand, “While many of his peers found comfort and assurance in slickly packaged training products, Olympic testimonials and the performance gurus of the day, Ken has never stopped asking hard questions or striving for more effective techniques.”
In more than 40 years of coaching, I've never met an individual more dedicated to learning his chosen task: Educating those who have a sincere desire to learn how to run fast; faster than they've ever run before!