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Abebe Bikila: The Man, The Legend, The Heel Striker???

Posted on July 02 2011

In the comments following my recent post about foot strike patterns of runners from the days before the modern running shoe, somebody asked if I had any video of Abebe Bikila’s stride. After a bit of searching on YouTube, I came across the following clip – jump to the 1:15 mark and you get a really nice view.

In the video, Bikila seems to exhibit a very mild heel strike in his Puma shoes on the way to setting the marathon world record in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics (maybe a few midfoot strikes mixed in for good measure). Granted, his form looks otherwise flawless – no overstriding here – but it just goes to show that even a great runner who won an Olympic Marathon barefoot (1960 in Rome) can be a “heel striker” by the technical definition of the phrase. If you don’t believe me, download the video using keepvid.com and go frame by frame.

Based upon my own observation of 1000+ slow motion videos of runners, it’s become pretty clear to me that not all heel strikes are created equally. There is a spectrum from extreme dorsiflexion to very mild landings like Bikila’s (check out the photo below), and perhaps it’s time we stop lumping them all together into one category. Heel striking is a spectrum, as is forefoot striking, and other aspects of what the limbs are doing might be just as important. Studying running form has been a constant learning process for me, and if there’s one thing I have come to understand, it’s that variation is rampant, and that much as Amby Burfoot suggested in a recent post of his own, generalizations about particular aspects of form should be made with caution.

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