Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is literally the fastest person in the world. He is the very first Olympic athlete to hold 100 meters and 200 meters world records, having accomplished the former in just under 10 seconds in 2009. He can also travel for 30 mph on foot, and in some small towns, that is already the driving norm.
Scientists have long wondered about Bolt’s extraordinary speeds. In their search for Usain’s sprint secrets, researchers stumbled upon Bolt’s country Jamaica, home to some of the world’s most elite sprinters. Researchers have begun to wonder how Jamaica, a country with less people than New York City, gave birth to some of the best runners history has ever known.
Rutgers University decided to investigate the Usain Bolt phenomenon, and their first step to uncover the secrets of Jamaica’s greatest runners is to go through the physiology. Scientists hypothesized that the alignment of the knees may have had something to do with how Jamaican runners perform on the track, and they began to test their ideas by examining the knees of 74 elite Jamaican sprinters, including well-known names such as Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce and Nesta Carter. They then compared them to a control of 116 Jamaicans who have no experience with the sport before. After factoring in sex, age, and other external variables in their comparisons, they have concluded that the knees of those who belonged to the athlete group were more symmetrical than those from the control group.
According to Futurity, although the scientists have established a clear relationship between knee symmetry and running speed, no causative relation between the two variables have been concluded. Robert Trivers, a scientist from Rutgers, says although there is an observable relationship, the nature of the link between symmetry and speed is yet to be established.
Trivers said, “We don’t know for sure whether the sprinters are great sprinters because their knees are symmetrical, or whether their knees are symmetrical because of all the time they spend practicing.”
In the future, the researchers aim to study more complex details about the runners’ anatomies, including minute differences between the left and the right leg. He also aims to do genetic research to discover how Jamaican runners outrun sprinters from other countries.
The study is published on the online journal PLOSone.
[Image from Marc/Flickr]