Science-- there's something for everyone

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Why I’m not a sprinter

I’m always looking for a good excuse as to why I’m no good at sprinting.  Thanks to the work of Stephen Piazza and his colleagues from Pennsylvania State University, I may have found just the thing.  Apparently, I don’t have the right foot and ankle structure.

The researchers compared the foot length and ankle positions of eight sprinters with eight height-matched not-sprinters.  You won’t be surprised to learn that the sprinters feet had different proportions than the non-sprinters.  Archimedes invented a little tool called ‘the lever’ that explains this quite nicely.  The amount of force needed to use a lever depends on its length and on the position of the fulcrum along that lever. A longer foot coupled with a shorter Achilles tendon gives sprinters a mechanical advantage each time they push against the ground.  

To be honest, I haven’t measured the ratios of my toe bones to my tendons.  I’m quite willing to assume that I would have been a world-class sprinter if it weren’t for my unfortunate draw in the foot genetics pool.  Otherwise, I’d have to fall back on lack of practice, and no one wants that.