Article from NST:
Long, short or tall - scientists claim that matching your shape to a sport could turn you into a medal winner. It is said that choosing your parents is the most important step towards reaching the top in sport, with genes determining physique and how your body functions.
Experts say body build is a crucial factor in determining aptitude for sport. Professor Andy Jones, the chair of applied physiology at the University of Exeter's school of sport and health sciences, goes as far as to say that "success at elite level is largely down to nature" rather than nurture.
"In Olympic finals, the importance of body type is quite obvious," he says. "The build of a marathon runner, for instance, is very different from that of a hammer thrower or hockey player."
Professor Richard Davison, the chair of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences and an exercise physiologist at Napier University in Edinburgh, agrees. "If you are short, you are never going to be a top-class basketball player. If you are too tall, you will not make a world-class gymnast."
Quite how exact the emerging science of kinanthropometry (The measurement of body shape, size and limb proportion) can be was demonstrated by Dr. Niels Secher, an exercise scientist at the University of Copenhagen.
He attempted to predict the speed of competitive rowers based only on their body size and the weights of their boats. He was accurate to within one per cent.
SIZE matters in rowing - elite male rowers are tall, muscular and weigh as much as 114kg but have low levels of body fat - and Dr Secher says that "bigger muscles allow them to use more oxygen, which means more power".
Limb length is also as important factor in some sports. Dr. Clare Hencken, of Portsmouth University, has found that good footballers have long thigh muscles, and Kenyan athletes, who hold many middle and long-distance running world records, have high calf muscles, a genetic trait that is thought to enhance running technique.
Sprinters tend to be tall and muscular but with slim lower legs and fairly narrow hips, which gives them a biomechanical advantage and they have a genetically higher proportion of fast twitch muscle fibres than, say, marathon runners.
So important a factor is body type that it is being used to identify potential champions for the London 2012 Olympics and beyond.
Last year, UK Sport and the EIS launched a talent identification scheme, called Sporting Giants, in which they urged potential athletes to come forward, providing they fulfilled the criteria of being tall (190cm for men, and 180cm for women), young (between 16 and 25) and with some sort of sporty background. About 4,800 people responded. Sporting Giants is a big attempt to identify future Olympic champions.
It is a modern and more ethical take on the searches infamously carried out in former Soviet bloc countries and China to identify genetic ability for sport at an early age.
Chelsea Warr, UK Sport's talent identification lead officer says that physical characteristics are just part of the package. Talent scouts are also looking for "games intelligence, the innate ability some people have to be in the right place at the right time", and "coachability", both vital for future champions. Even then, success isn't guaranteed.
"It takes six to eight years of hard graft for a promising athlete to get to the point where they can think about winning medals," she says.
Garland says "talent recycling", in which promising athletes are redirected to sports more suitable to their body type, has been successful many times. He cites the example of Anna Bebington, an all-round sportswoman who began rowing at Cambridge University in 2001 when she was 18 to keep fit, but because of her physique was picked out as having potential. She started intensive training two years later and was competing for Great Britain in the world championship by 2005.
Of course, there are always going to be exceptions.
"In some sports, skill can overcome physical limitations to a certain extent," Professor Davison says. "With game and team sports, this is especially true. Look at the footballers Peter Crouch and Michael Owen; both play the same position, but they are incredibly different in stature."
In most cases, stature and build should merely be used as a guide. Parents should not push their child into a sport simply because it seems to suit their body type. "A child will not be successful at any sport if he or she doesn't enjoy it," he says. "You may find they become good at a sport they enjoy despite their size, or enjoy a sport they are good at because of their size.
The Driver: Lewis Hamilton
Sport: Formula One
Build: Few Formula One drivers are taller 1.75m. Generally, the thinner and lighter they are, the better. Not only does it improve the fit in the tiny cockpit, but the downforce experienced as a Formula One car grips the track means that the driver can be subjected to forces of five times the pull of gravity, where his 70KG body suddenly weighs 350KG. Muscle strength, especially in the neck, is also critical, so body fat percentage is low.
The Swimmer: Michael Phelps
Build: Phelps is tall and height is an advantage for a sprint swimmer. Long bodies give swimmers and automatic edge when it comes to turning and reaching for the finish. Phelps has size 14 feets, which act like paddles in the water, and an arm span of two metres, which means that his stroke rate is highly efficient.
Sport: Distance Running
Build: Although Radcliffe is taller than many world-class female marathon runners, she has the classic ectomorph physique of a distance runner, slim with a slight build, having proportionately long legs and narrow hips. Being any taller could have been a disadvantage. Distance running requires efficiency of movement in lifting the body off the ground and propellin it forward with each stride, and that becomes more difficult the taller and heavier someone is.
The Rower: James Cracknell
Height: 1.93m Weight: 100KG
Build: Rowers are classic mesomorph shapes with broad shoulders and long, muscular limbs, with low body fat. Although rowers' musculature can make them heavy, the water buoys their boat and it doesn't hinder them moving through the water. Like distance runners, rowers have a high aerobic capacity and are capable of taking in up to 300 litres of air a minute
What Shape are you?
There are three classic body types. Although most people are a mixture of two, you should be able to categorise yourself according to the descriptions below:
Mesomorph: Larger bones and well-defined muscles, with even proportions. Tend to excel at power-based sports such as sprinting, rugby and weightlifting
Endomorph: Curvier with relatively short limbs, small hands and feet and high waists. A higher percentage of body fat and less muscle. Best at endurance-based sports, such as cross-channel swimming.
Ectomorph: Small build with low body fat and narrow hips, waists, ankles and wrists. Tend to excel at distance running.