Size really is everything when it comes to success in Olympic sprinting, scientists have found.
Usain Bolt, the 100m and 200m world record holder, characterises the leaner, more linear and less bulky shape of a successful modern-day sprinter when compared to those a decade ago.
Experts at the University of Wolverhampton carried out a study looking into the evolving body type of sprinters and found this could be the key to their every success.
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.”
Mr Nevill said he thought body shape may influence sprint success because of stride length.
”The sprinters with the leaner, more linear body shapes are gaining advantage towards the second part of the race,” he said.
”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.”
From the athlete’s height and weight, researchers were able to calculate their body mass index (BMI) and reciprocal ponderal index (RPI).
Researchers found that RPI may be a more significant factor in success than BMI - which may suggest the influence of muscle mass on sprint performance - with taller, linear sprinters achieving greater success as measured by sprint speed.
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 had changed over time, and what characterised the most successful world-class sprinters.