Does the secret of Usain Bolt's running success lie with the fact that Jamaicans have symmetrical knees?
- Study of Jamaican youngsters found those whose legs - and particularly knees - match in size grow up to be the keenest and best sprinters
- Many scientists believe perfectly paired body parts are a sign of good genes
Scientists may have hit on the secret behind Usain Bolt’s success on the track – his perfect knees.
A study of Jamaican youngsters found those whose legs, and particularly knees, match in size grow up to be the best sprinters.
The finding could help explain why athletes from the Caribbean island dominate international 100m and 200m races – the distances Bolt specialises in.
Perfectly formed: Scientists say the secret of Usain Bolt's success might be his symmetrical knees
The theory may seem bizarre, but many scientists believe perfectly paired body parts are a sign of good genes and good health.
Previous studies have linked symmetrical bodies and faces with everything from good looks to fertility.
latest study, which started in 1996, involved almost 300 Jamaican
schoolchildren whose bodies were measured from the age of eight.
When they reached 22, they were asked to undergo more tests, including two sprint races, with just over half taking part.
The study of Jamaican youngsters found those whose legs, and particularly knees, match in size grow up to be the keenest and best sprinters
results showed that those with the most symmetrical legs – and in
particular knees – as children were more likely to agree to race.
Significantly they clocked up faster times than the other young men and women.
University researcher John Manning said his results could help explain
the success of six-time Olympic gold medallist Bolt – whose 100m world
record is 9.58 seconds – and his teammates, but added more research is
needed to back up his symmetry theory.
told the Independent: ‘We need to... look at international level
sprinters and add some genetic tests. Also more data on Caucasians will
help to further clarify the issue.’
Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, he added that symmetrical knees could also be a sign of general healthy development of the body.
Other theories behind Jamaicans’ sprinting success include higher numbers of ‘speed genes’ and fast-twitch muscle fibres that provide the explosive power needed for sprinting.
Professor Manning said: ‘We found that participants with symmetric legs in 1996, particularly knees, tended to volunteer for the sprints and they tended to run the fastest when tested in 2010.
‘There was some evidence that these Jamaican children had substantially more symmetry in their legs than UK children.
‘So we think our results inform the debate as to why Jamaicans tend to win gold medals in sprinting.’
Other theories behind Jamaicans’ sprinting success include higher numbers of ‘speed genes’ and fast-twitch muscle fibres the provide the explosive power needed for sprinting.
Professor Manning said that more research is needed to back up his symmetry theory.
He told the Independent: ‘We need to…look at international level sprinters and add some genetic tests.
‘Also more data on Caucasians will help to further clarify the issue.’
He added that symmetrical knees and legs may not only be conductive to speed. They may also be a sign of general healthy development of the body.
Professor Manning said: ‘It may be the simple explanation is that symmetric knees are more efficient during sprinting.
Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell. Research also suggests that Jamaican children's legs tend to be more symmetrical than those of their English counterparts
‘However, for me, the most likely explanation concerns the nature of developmental stability.
‘People have a genetic instruction to develop symmetrically across most of the body. However, it is very difficult to maintain symmetry in, for example limbs, particularly if one is a rapidly growing child.
‘We initially measured these children when they were about 8 years old, and their knee symmetry at 8 years predicted their sprinting speed years later.
‘This suggests that symmetry can only be achieved and maintained by individuals with "good genes". Such genes are likely to influence one's physiology and hence one's running speed.’
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