Really enjoyed this discussion between Malcolm Gladwell and Nicholas Thompson about Olympic running. Having been in awe of the bodies on the men’s sprinters, e.g., Yohan Blake
BY MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/GETTY.
Contrast that with your typical 1500m runner, where they all look they’ve been on a hunger strike:
I found this part of the conversation about the 800m fascinating:
N: Let’s go back to the eight hundred metres for a minute. It’s not only the one race with real geographic diversity, but it’s also the race with, probably, the greatest physical diversity. Some of the runners—like the favorite, David Rudisha—are tall and skinny. Others are more muscular. Nick Symmonds, the top American, seems almost stocky. It’s a great race in that it combines the need for both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers.
M: I know you love the eight hundred, Nick. But I just can’t work up any enthusiasm for it. I think that thing you point out—that it’s both a sprint and not a sprint, and attracts the big and the skinny—is what turns me off. As a skinny guy, I am only interested in races won by skinny guys. I came of age watching track in the days of Mike Boit (skinny guy) getting beat by the great hulking Cuban Alberto Juantorena. Needless to say, when Boit lost—and he did, over and over again—it killed me.
N: Rudisha’s height is also interesting because, in general, very tall runners don’t do well in distance races. According to research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, the mean height of the thirty people who have broken twenty-seven minutes in the 10-k is only five-seven.
M: That’s what I was saying! That’s why I think I can take Rupp and Farah in a bar fight!
Anyway, I find that fascinating that 400m and less you are dealing with amazing muscular sprinter bodies; at 1500m you basically have waifs; and at 800m you get an interesting cross-section. I’d love to know more about the physiology behind the fact that huge muscles obviously help for a sprinter but are a detriment for a middle-distance runner.