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The evolution of speed, size and shape in modern athletics
Jordan D. Charles, Adrian Bejan


In the present study, we show that the fastest runners and swimmers are becoming not only faster but also heavier, taller and more slender. During the past century, the world record speeds for 100 m-freestyle and 100 m-dash have increased with body mass (M) raised to the power 1/6, in accordance with the constructal scaling of animal locomotion. The world records also show that the speeds have increased in proportion with body heights (H) raised to the power 1/2, in accordance with animal locomotion scaling. If the athlete's body is modeled with two length scales (H, body width L), the (M, H) data can be used to calculate the slenderness of the body, H/L. The world records show that the body slenderness is increasing very slowly over time.


  • J.C. is the starting 100 m breaststroke swimmer on Duke University's NCAA swimming team. A.B.'s research on the constructal law of design in nature is supported by grants from the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.

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