Equipped with sensors and filmed by a bank of video cameras,
Christophe Lemaître performed a series of runs,
under the gaze of Pierre Carraz.
Customised high tech material for Christophe Lemaître - ASICS Research and Development centre in Kobe.
By Laurence Dacour
German Road Races Website
11th January 2011
They say that travel broadens the mind. Just a few days before taking off for a training session in Miami, Florida, Christophe Lemaitre headed off to Japan, between 4 and 9 January, after accepting an invitation from his equipment manufacturer Asics. Accompanied by his coach, Pierre Carraz, the triple European champion 2010 (100m, 200m and 4x100m) spent two long days immersed in the brand’s Research and Development centre in Kobe.
The aim was to carry out a highly detailed series of tests and measurements, intended to come up with a design for a new pair of entirely custom-made sprint shoes, boasting all the latest technological innovations. All of this was geared towards providing Christophe with the very best preparation for competition.
In Kobe, Christophe Lemaitre was able to benefit from the expertise and equipment at the top level technological research centre, where over a hundred researchers are employed on a daily basis. His first day was devoted to taking measurements, of the various parts of his body, both manually and electronically, with a special focus on the feet, calves, thighs and pelvis.
The following day, he had a chance to discover and trial each of the shoe models prepared with him in mind by the brand's teams. He then tested them one by one in an actual sprint situation along a 300m track assembled within the company's research centre itself. Equipped with sensors and filmed by a bank of video cameras, he performed a series of runs, under the gaze of Pierre Carraz.
Christophe Lemaitre should receive the first prototypes of his new shoes this winter and they are set to be more suited to training rather than actual competition. An even more well-designed model will then be supplied for the upcoming summer season, which he is likely to wear at the World Championships in Daegu. Ultimately the aim of this lengthy technological process remains the Olympic meeting: namely London in 2012.
The young Savoyard isn't the first athlete to make the journey to Kobe to meet Asics' researchers and technicians. Prior to him, several big names who use the brand have been invited, including high jumpers Stefan Holm and Tia Hellebaut. However, never before has such attention been given to such a young sprinter, aged just 20 years and seven months.
Interview - Christophe Lemaître - "I learnt a whole heap of things"
Can a sprinter improve his performance with a pair of custom-made shoes?
Christophe Lemaitre: It's impossible to reply to that question with any degree of certainty, but it can certainly have an effect. Clearly it's a bonus. And if a new pair of shoes can enable me to gain one or several hundredths of a second, I won't deprive myself of that, even though I'm aware that however good a material is, it will never replace a good training session.
What do you expect from the material you'll soon have at your disposal in competition?
My new shoes will be more rigid. I'm going to have to get used to them, as ever, and that will take a bit of time. However, I'm very optimistic. The models I tested in Kobe were only prototypes, but they felt good.
Did you enjoy the experience in Japan with two long days spent working with technicians in a research laboratory?
"I found the time there and the experience very interesting and highly instructive even. I'd never had an opportunity to undergo a series of tests before. I discovered a whole heap of things about my body and my morphology. They're all details of course, but I had no idea about them before. Asics' technicians measured my segments and the diameter of my muscles and they were even capable of reproducing a 3D image of my body."
What do you think of Japan?
It was my second visit to the country and I feel at ease there. I particularly like the people. Their politeness and the care they bestow on us. It's quite incredible. However, my favourite thing of all in Japan is the manga cartoon work. I'm a huge fan.
Your next training session should now take you to Florida?
Yes, I'm heading out there with part of the French team for a training session in Miami. It will involve a big work session, overseen by Renaud Longuevre, where I'll have to concentrate all my efforts on the training, in the sunshine, so as to prepare as best I can for the European Indoor Championships in Bercy. Before that though, I must fully recover from my trip to Japan*.
*The session in Miami will take place from 14 to 29 January
Interview - Pierre Carraz - "I'll be able to improve his running technique"
With the eye of a coach, what have you learnt and retained from the long days Christophe Lemaitre spent in Asics' research centre in Kobe?
Pierre Carraz: At the time I was very impressed by the means placed at our disposal, the computer equipment, the video, the sensors... I was also very taken by the expertise and enthusiasm of the brand's researchers. On a technical level, these tests and measurements will be very useful once we have all the results in a few weeks' time. However, they've already confirmed certain sentiments that I had in the field. Christophe has one flaw: both his feet fall inwards. We knew about the problem. A chiropodist monitored him for a long period, but it's not enough. The images taken in Kobe clearly demonstrate the distortion on the ground.
Could a new pair of custom-made shoes help him to correct this flaw?
Certainly. Christophe already wears custom-made spikes when he runs. However, Asics' technicians are going to make him some shoes which are even more well-designed. They want to get right to the core of the problem. Notably the sole will be more rigid and the resulting performance is likely to be even better.
Did these measurements reveal any other technical flaws?
No. Christophe was scanned from head to toe. He ran with sensors placed just about everywhere. Passage times were then recorded in 5 metre sections during a series of runs. The technicians boxed up nearly twenty videos. The work was very in-depth and the measurements were extremely advanced. They revealed that Christophe was pretty consistent and symmetrical.
Up till then, had you made use of video for training?
Yes, sometimes. It's always useful so I've already done it, but never with such sophisticated equipment. Added to that, the coach can't hold the camera during a session. He has to watch the athlete through his own eyes. That's why I'm very happy to have all the images taken in Kobe. By studying them in detail, in a quiet environment, I'll be able to pick up a lot and use this to further improve his running technique.