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The athletes of today are not only much better than those of the past, they also look incredibly
different. The weird thing is, scientists know that the human body hasn't evolved that
dramatically in the past 100 years. So why do Olympic athletes look so different now,
compared to the first winter Olympics in 1924?
In the early 1900's the ideal athlete was based on classical human proportions. If we
imagine body types distributed as a bell curve - extreme body types being on the far ends
- it was the middle of the curve that was considered the best physical build. Athletes
who were not too tall, but not too short, not too bulky, but not to skinny, and, well
average, were deemed as ideal for the olympic pursuit.
But this has all changed. Now athletes succeed based on their highly specialised body types
which allow them to excel in a world of growing competitiveness. For example, athletes who
are required to spin in the air - such as figure skaters or gymnasts - have been getting
smaller. These athletes with short specialised body types have an advantage over average,
or tall athletes, weeding them out at the elite level. In fact, in 30 years the average
professional gymnast has shrunk from 5'3" to 4'9".
Computer simulations studying the physics of ski-jumping have proven that jump length
increases drastically with a decrease in body weight. Throughout recent years this has caused
world class ski-jumpers to become extremely underweight, including many examples of anorexia.
With women competing in the Olympic ski-jumping event for the first time this years, their
bodies are stockier and broader than their male counterparts. As female ski-jumping becomes
more popular and competitive in the future, it's likely we'll see the extremely thin ski-jumping
body type dominate the sport.
Hockey is also an example of visible body changes. Studies looking at the past 26 years
alone found a steady increase through the years, of nearly all variables measured. This
included height, mass, body mass index, aerobic and anaerobic fitness and even grip strength.
Since the 1920's hockey players have increased nearly 4 inches, on average - from 5'9 to
So, clearly the "average Joe" olympian is a thing of the past. But Science Says... the
Games may now be a realistic goal for people of many different sizes
and shapes.
Don't forget: we have a new video out every day during the Olympics. Can't wait?
Our amazing partners at the CBC already have five of the videos up now for you to binge on.
Just head to cbc.ca/olympics/ScienceSays to watch them before anyone else. Link in the description.
But we also want to know your questions for this special series. Use the hashtag ScienceSays and let us know your burning Olympic questions.
And subscribe for more awesome science videos!
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How Olympians Have Changed (1924-2014)

1535 Folder Collection
姚易辰 published on July 28, 2014
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