Research into the changing shape of world-class sprinters by University of Wolverhampton experts has been included in a new report showing the impact of universities’ research and sport development on the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and UK sport generally.
The report has been released as part of Universities Week (30 April – 7 May) which aims to increase public awareness of the wide and varied role of the UK’s universities.
The report, Supporting a UK success story: The impact of university research and sport development, highlights just some of the many ways in which research has helped Team GB limber up and prepare for London 2012. Research led by Professor Alan Nevill, from the School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure at the University of Wolverhampton, is highlighted in the report.
The ‘Changing Shape of Success in world-class sprinters’ set out to identify whether the relative shape and characteristics of world-class sprinters have changed over time and whether this has had an impact on how successful they were.
The research found that taller, more linear sprinters, such as Usain Bolt, achieve greater success as measured by sprint speed.
The researchers looked at body size (height and mass) and the sprint times over 100 metres for both men and women in the world's top-ten list of best all time performers. Using their height and mass the researchers calculated the body mass index (BMI) and reciprocal ponderal index (RPI) of each athlete.
The researchers found that BMI is an important factor associated with success in both male and female sprinters and suggests that muscle mass does influence speed and sprint performance. However, it is in fact the RPI that emerged as the more significant factor in achieving success.
Professor Nevill conducted the research with colleagues Adam Watts, who is undertaking PhD research in Exercise Physiology, and Dr Iain Coleman, Principal Lecturer (Pharmacology), both from the University’s School of Applied Sciences.
Prof Nevill says: “World-class 100-metre sprinters are the purest example of human speed. We found that taller, more linear sprinters such as Usain Bolt, achieve greater success, as measured by sprint speed.
“The research suggests that coaches, selectors and sports scientists should consider body shape and size when selecting potential athletes for sprint events, especially those athletes with a high RPI.”
It highlights how research taking place at universities across the UK, including the University of Wolverhampton, is helping to give athletes that extra split second or millimetre advantage which can mean the difference between gold and silver medals in competitive sports.
The report takes an in-depth look at how exploration and development in the areas of technology, health and wellbeing, design, sport development and participation and the Games past and present, have contributed to London 2012 and the UK sports industry.
From the science behind athlete hydration to the regeneration of East London, home to the Olympic Park, the report takes a journey through the research and sports development that sits behind the lasting impact of London 2012 on the UK. Throughout the report, issues of endurance sit side by side with examples of urban regeneration and the history of sports medicine to demonstrate the diverse ways in which the whole of UK society benefits from the work of universities linked to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Universities UK, said: “It is sometimes easy to forget when you watch an athlete or team compete just how much preparation has gone into their performance. This isn’t simply a question of training schedules and practice. These days, cutting-edge university research is used to support every aspect of Olympic sports – from nutrition and health to equipment, physiotherapy, rehabilitation and of course performance. For instance, the combination of design and technology can be immensely effective for top athletes so that the actual design of a kayak or bob-sleigh can be as important to athletes as their own skill and training.”
Karen Rothery, Chief Executive Officer, British Universities & Colleges Sport, said: “Sports development within our universities is encouraging greater participation in sport and activity across the student population and within the communities of universities. A variety of programmes and the support and development of a supporting workforce in volunteers and officials means that more people have the opportunity to be more active and enjoy the many benefits that brings.”
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “The UK’s world leading research at our universities will make a significant contribution towards what I hope will be a record-breaking Olympic Games this summer.
“It is important that we celebrate our knowledge and expertise as well as the sporting prowess of our top athletes. From the research that goes into understanding and improving the performance of our athletes to the science that underpins developments in sports equipment, universities help our country and top athletes to achieve success.”
Professor Rick Rylance, Chair of Research Councils UK (RCUK) said: “Research has long been instrumental in helping UK athletes improve their performance. This new report showcases some wonderful examples of how this might contribute to success in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, sometimes in surprising ways. Beyond the summer, these innovations will help the London 2012 legacy in terms of benefits to British sport and, hopefully, the wellbeing of us all.”
For more information please contact Vickie Warren in the Media Relations Office on 01902 322736