SANTA CLARA -- There are times when Colin Kaepernick looks like he should be carrying a baton, not a football, with his progress measured in meters, not yards.
He looks like a track star -- even to actual track stars.
"He's a freak in the same way that Usain Bolt is a freak," former Olympic sprinter Ato Boldon said.
Boldon, legendary Olympic hurdler Edwin Moses and noted track coach Fred Harvey were among those watching the 49ers' playoff game last weekend when Kaepernick blazed for 181 rushing yards, a single-game NFL record for a quarterback.
So they were eager to play along this week when asked to analyze Kaepernick's long-legged stride. Moses, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, even requested additional Kaepernick highlights so he could take a closer look.
Geographically, our track panel has this Sunday's game between the 49ers and Falcons well represented: Boldon and Harvey have ties to the Bay Area, while Moses lives in Atlanta, the site of the NFC Championship Game.
The basic question for our running commentators: How can someone 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds be so dang fast?
"It tells me his biomechanics are really good," said Moses, who won 400-meter gold medals at the 1976 and '84 Olympics and who once won 122 consecutive races.
"And I'd bet a million dollars he's done a lot of plyometrics in his life."
Bingo! When Moses' theory was relayed to Kaepernick, the quarterback confirmed that his training
In the biggest play Jan. 12 at Candlestick Park, Kaepernick rolled around the right side of his offensive line and zoomed untouched for a 56-yard touchdown. It was the longest run by a quarterback in franchise history -- the third time this season that Kaepernick has surpassed the old mark of 49 yards set by Steve Young.
According to a film review of the play by sports columnist Monte Poole of the Bay Area News Group, Kaepernick needed only 15 steps to cover the last 40 yards. In contrast, defensive back Charles Woodson of the Packers needed 20 steps over that same distance -- and never came close to making the tackle.
"The most impressive thing is that he has a true, efficient sprint motion when he runs," said Harvey, the 2011 Pac-10 track coach of the year at the University of Arizona and a former standout sprinter at San Jose City College. "Colin has great hip flexion, great recovery of the foot. So his foot is always moving underneath his center of mass.
"He never has what you see in some poor sprinters, which is their feet getting too far in back of them -- butt-kicking. He doesn't do that at all. And that's one of the things we really look for in efficient sprinters."
Kaepernick ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds at the 2011 Scouting Combine. That was fast -- second among quarterbacks that year to Tyrod Taylor (4.51) -- but hardly world class.
What separates Kaepernick from most of the football pack is his ability to maintain that speed even while weighed down by a helmet and bulky pads. As ESPN.com noted, the famously speedy Michael Vick has had three runs of 50-plus yards over the span of his 10-season career, including playoffs.
Kaepernick has three 50-plus-yard runs over his past 41 carries.
It was the most recent one that caught Boldon's attention.
"The defensive secondary had a long time to look at him coming around and they still couldn't do anything about it," he said of the 56-yard score. "As much as Kaepernick is known for his speed, I think he has the most underrated speed in the league. He's fast. Then he runs by people and they think, 'Oh, he's that fast.' "
Boldon, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, once attended Piedmont Hills High in San Jose and grew up idolizing the Joe Montana-era 49ers. A former 100-meter and 200-meter specialist, he won three bronze medals and a silver over the course of the 1996 and 2000 Summer Games. The only other men with at least four individual Olympic sprint medals are Bolt, Frankie Fredericks and Carl Lewis.
Boldon was told how John Madden, the former football coach, said this week that Kaepernick's running style reminded him of Bolt -- the 6-foot-5, 210-pound record-smashing Jamaican sprint superstar.
"I actually don't think that is an unfair comparison," Boldon said. "Because it's not just about being tall. There are tall guys who have been fast. But when you see a guy who is that fast, who is able to turn his legs over like Colin Kaepernick, now you have a special athlete."
Moses said that "big guys usually have a tougher challenge" when it comes to sprinting because longer strides mean fewer foot strikes. He ventured that Kaepernick's superior leg strength allows him to generate maximum propulsion on each step.
"When you push off the track, all of the energy has to go through the bottom of your foot," Moses said, detailing how the calf, Achilles, lower leg, quads and hamstring have to contract and fire. "So I would think that a guy of that size, in order to really be quick -- with the stride lift that he has -- all those things have to happen instantaneously."
Moses theorizes that Kaepernick's smooth running style was entrenched long before the muscles arrived. He figured he became biomechanically sound first as a way of making the most of an undersized physique.
That's how it happened for Moses.
"I was a tiny guy. I looked like Urkel when I was in high school. I had the glasses, the braces," Moses said, referring to the 1990s "Family Matters" sitcom character. "I was 5-9 with long legs. Other guys were like 6-1, 160-170. I was 5-9 and about a buck-twenty. And I just didn't have the power.
"But I had the mechanics and I always had the work ethic. Later on, as I got older, all of that finally kicked in. And by the time I got to the Olympics in '76, and then all the way through the end of my career, I was still improving because I was still working my way into my body."
Kaepernick might not have been mistaken for Urkel, but he was indeed just a wisp coming out of Pitman High in Turlock. He was lightly recruited because he weighed about 170 pounds as a senior.
Now that Kaepernick is 25 and sturdily built, the Falcons better start getting into the starting blocks.
"I don't know what his values are in the weight room or what his values are plyometrically, but you have to be very, very explosive to be able to do what he's doing," Harvey said. "You think in terms of a cheetah. You think in terms of a gazelle."