The secret of how sprinters have been able to get faster and faster over the years has been revealed – the athletes are getting taller and skinner, according to scientists.
While watching the Olympic Games this summer there may be an easy way of spotting those competitors who are destined for success – they will stand head and shoulders above those around them.
Researchers studying elite sportsmen and women claim to have solved the mystery of how sprinters can continue to push the boundaries of human performance to run ever-faster times.
They have found that speeds for running the 100 metres have increased as champion sprinters have become taller and leaner, giving them a competitive edge over other athletes.
It helps to explain why Usain Bolt, the 6ft 5in tall, 12-stone Olympic gold medallist and 100 metre world record holder, has been able to achieve race times far quicker than his rivals.
Carl Lewis, who is 6ft 2in and weighed almost 13 stone, also managed to set world sprinting records during the 1990s, but his body shape is less well adapted than Usain Bolt’s, according to the researchers.
This may explain why the Jamaican sprinter has been able to shave 0.30 seconds off Lewis’s own record.
Britain’s fastest sprinter Linford Christie weighted in at 12 stone and is 6ft 2 inches. His fastest time was also short of Bolts world record.
Professor Alan Neville, a biostatistician in the school of sport at the University of Wolverhampton said tall, thin athletes may have an edge because they are better at dissipating heat from their bodies due to greater skin surface area, which allows their muscles to work harder for longer. They also have greater stride length, he added.
He said: "There is very strong evidence that taller, more linear individuals are becoming more successful in sprinting.
“Until the last few years, sprinters have been hugely bulky and extremely muscular, even their upper bodies. Over the past ten years, however that seems to have changed with leaner and more angular competitors becoming more successful.”
Professor Neville, whose research is due to be published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, examined the body composition and sprint times for the top 10 men and women in 100 metre sprinting over the past ten decades.
Athletes with a leanness ratio, known as a reciprocal ponderal index, of greater than 44 seemed to be the most successful.
The findings may also help identify athletes who may be worth watching closely during this summer’s Olympic Games in London.
Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre, who this year became the first white man to break the 10 second barrier in the 100 metres, rates highly based on his body composition.
Chelsea Warr, head of athlete development at UK Sport, said that sports coaches have become far more systematic at identifying the attributes that can produce an elite athlete.
She said: “The sports are far more proactive in how they are identifying the next future Olympians and profiling at what characteristics win in their sport.”
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