Researchers theorize why Jamaicans Run So Fast

For years many people across the world have wondered how an island the size of Jamaica has managed to produce some of the world’s best sprinters.

Some researchers now believe the secret to Jamaica’s sprinting prowess may all boil down to symmetry, knee symmetry that is.

Robert Trivers an evolutionary biologist and professor of anthropology at Rutgers University along with some of his colleagues set out to discover if there was a correlation between the symmetry of the knees and how fast a person runs.

Among all sprinters,(particularly 100-meter sprinters) those with the most symmetrical knees boast the fastest times.


Symmetry is apparently a major factor in how fast we can run. 

Usain Bolt Jamaicans knee symmetry why Jamaicans can run faster than everyone else
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“You can easily imagine why,” Trivers says. “If you watch someone running a 100-meter race, you can see his or her knees continually churning up and down, propelling the sprinter forward. Symmetry is very efficient.”

Trivers and his co-authors – Bernhard Fink of the University of Gottingen in Germany; Kristofor McCarty and Mark Russell of Northumbria University in England; Brian Palaestis of Wagner College in Staten Island, New York; and Bruce James of the MVP Track and Field Club in Kingston, Jamaica  — have published their work in the journal PLOS ONE.

For their study, the researchers measured the knees of 74 elite Jamaican sprinters and a control group of 116 non-sprinting Jamaicans of the same age and sex and similar in size and weight. They discovered that the sprinters’ knees were much more symmetrical than the knees of people in the control group.

The 74 sprinters were all members of the MVP Track and Field Club, and included Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, who holds two Olympic gold medals in the 100-meter sprint, and Nesta Carter, the man with the fifth fastest 100-meter runs ever recorded.

The 30 sprinters who specialized in the 100-meter race, which does not require turns, had the most symmetrical knees of all. Trivers attributes this finding to the fact that sprinters in longer races have to make left turns each time they run, and this turning may lead to or favor asymmetry over time, just as unbalanced wheels may lead to uneven tire wear on a car. 

“So far as we know, this is the first time anyone has isolated a variable that predicts sprinting speed in the future as well as among the very best adult sprinters now,” Trivers says.


Source: Rutgers

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