Size is everything for Olympic sprint success

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 Alan Nevillover 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 hopeful Bolt.

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 the planet.

“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 shape.”

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 sprinters.

From the athlete’s height and weight, the researchers were able to calculate their body mass index (BMI) and reciprocal ponderal index (RPI).

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 speed.

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 metres.

“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.

ENDS

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

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