Olympic star Usain Bolt’s body shape could hold the key
to his success, a study by experts at the University of
Wolverhampton has found.
The research looked into the changing body shape of sprinters,
and how shapes have evolved over time.
It found that over the last 10 years, sprinters have become
leaner, more linear and less bulky, as characterised by shapes such
as 100m and 200m world record holder and London 2012 gold medal
Professor Alan Nevill, from the University’s School of Sport,
Performing Arts and Leisure is a specialist in biostatistics and
carried out the research. He said: “World-class 100m sprinters
offer the purest expression of human speed, with considerable kudos
associated with the accolade of being the fastest man or woman on
“Over the last 10 years, sprinters have become leaner, more
linear and less bulky. Usain Bolt is a good example of this, as is
the European 100m Champion, French sprinter Christophe Lemaitre,
who clinched gold in Helsinki earlier this summer.
“Up until 2001, sprinters were still these bulkier, more
powerful runners. But British Olympic gold medallist Linford
Christie was beginning to shape the mould, with a more elegant body
The research, titled ‘The changing shape of success in
world-class sprinters’, was published in the Journal of Sports
Sciences. Carried out with Wolverhampton colleagues Adam Watts and
Dr Iain Coleman, it sought to identify whether relative shape and
size characteristics of world-class sprinters have changed over
time, and what characterises the most successful world-class
From the athlete’s height and weight, the researchers were able
to calculate their body mass index (BMI) and reciprocal ponderal
Professor Nevill added: “While BMI is an important factor
associated with success in both male and female world-class
sprinters that may suggest the influence of muscle mass on sprint
performance, the RPI has emerged as a more significant factor in
success, with taller, linear sprinters - like Usain Bolt, for
example - achieving greater success as measured by sprint
But why would body shape influence sprint success?
Professor Nevill explained: “I think it is something to do with
stride length. The sprinters with the leaner, more linear body
shapes are gaining advantage towards the second part of the race.
They can keep up with the more powerful, bulky runners who get the
explosive starts and then have a longer stride after about 40 - 50
“I believe the longer stride is showing benefit in the latter
part of the race.”
The track and field events at London 2012 start tomorrow, Friday
3 August 2012, with the 100m heats and final over the weekend.
For more information, please contact Vickie Warren in the Media
Relations Office on 01902 322736 to arrange.
A copy of the research paper from The Journal of Sports Sciences
is available on request. Professor Alan Nevill’s biography http://www.wlv.ac.uk/default.aspx?page=25394
Date Issued: Thursday, 02 August 2012
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