The 2012 Summer Olympics have come and gone, and while the besieged residents of London might breathe a collective sigh of relief, it is always a bit sad when the games reach their conclusion. This year saw some pretty amazing feats of athleticism, with Michael Phelps taking the individual medal count record to new heights, and Usain Bolt cementing his place as one of the greatest sprinters of all time.
Putting aside Bolt’s excessive bravado for a moment, it’s hard not to be impressive by his accomplishments: holding the world records in both the 100m and 200m distances, as well as winning the gold medal in the same events for back to back Olympics. Obviously, his surname is quite appropriate. However, a lot of the success for a sprinter, and other running events like the marathon, are highly dependent on the proportions and body composition of the athlete in question.
In Bolt’s case, his height (atypical for elite level sprinters) grants him a much larger stride than his competitors. His extra weight would normally be a limiting factor for acceleration, but is apparently offset by an obviously high amount of fast twitch muscle fibers thereby enabling him to outpace the competition. He is an anomaly for sure, but this is illustrated much more remarkably when comparing the body-shape trends of Olympic runners over time.
The following infographics come from npr.org, and provide an interesting look into the types of bodies which excel at either end of the running spectrum, sprinting and marathons, and how athlete’s figures have changed over time. (Click to view full size)