Recent Research News



Knee (and ankle) symmetry predict the best of the best among Jamaican sprinters (for a short movie, click here)

Researchers measured the knees of 74 elite Jamaican sprinters (Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce - who is world champ from 60m to 200m and is participating in our sample with nearly perfectly symmetrical knees).

The athletes below are all members of the MVP, Track and Field club and hence members of the project.

The best sprinters in the world are Jamaicans. Why this should be so is a matter of some interest.

Recent work has isolated a key variable that predicts sprinting ability both within the elite sprinters themselves—and also predicts 14 years in advance sprinting ability in 8 year old children. This variable is knee symmetry, supported but not as strong by ankle symmetry

In a study of the entire MVP Track and Field Club athletes in Kingston, Jamaica, themselves comprising about 2/3rds of the elite sprinters on the island, Trivers and colleagues (2014) have shown that not only are sprinters, as expected, more symmetrical in their knees and ankles than average Jamaicans but more striking, the very best among the elite have the most symmetrical knees and ankles (PDF). This holds for both men and women for the full range of sprints from the 100m to the 800m but it is especially true for the 100m. 

In short, the very top Olympic and world champion sprinters are more likely to have highly symmetrical knees—while their feet seem entirely irrelevant.

This is unlikely to be due to greater training alone. Knee symmetry at 8 years of age predicts sprinting ability 14 years later at age 22 (PDF). Also degree of knee symmetry among the athletes does not increase with age as expected if training is playing a major role.

Why are Jamaicans the greatest?

No one knows how symmetrical the knees are of different peoples, except for Jamaicans, but nevertheless we have a strong hypothesis about the value of West African variability in genes relevant to running in the artificially created slave populations  as has been well documented by historical and genetic work, Jamaicans on their West African side are a hybrid of peoples running from the Ibo and Yoruba of Nigeria all the way up to the Wolof and Sera of Senegal, some 800 miles distant. This heterozygosity or genetic variability is associated with both symmetry and a series of other positive traits (Link). Future work testing these theories is being designed.

Jamaican sprinters (gold medalists Nickel Ashmeade, Kemar Bailey-Cole, Usain Bolt and Nesta Carter (who is part of our sample with highly symmetrical knees) pictured) excel at the sport because of their symmetrical knees. Research has found that runners with the most even knees have the quickest track times over 100 metres