What makes “the ultimate athlete”? Is there really one specific body type that leads to success or is there a version in almost every sport?
In the early 20th century, a case could have been made that the build of “the ultimate athlete” was consistent across most sports. Today there is a lot more differentiation from sport to sport. There are a few sports that stand out as having a prototypical body type across most of the sport’s athletes (a big, or small, reason why my 5″6 frame isn’t currently in the NBA). Obviously this is not to say that there aren’t ever any exceptions.
Here are a few sports that could make a case for having a prototypical or “ultimate” body type:
If you have ever seen the lineup for the start of a swimming race, then you would agree that a lot of the athletes look like carbon copies of each other. In general, swimmers are long and lean. More height leads to longer arms and legs, which can help them pull more water (depending on which stroke they do). Not convinced? Here is some proof. 1) All three of the medallists from the 50m freestyle at the London 2012 Olympic Games are 6″5 or taller. 2) Brent Hayden was the shortest competitor in the 100m freestyle at London, and he stands at 6″4.
Prototypical Canadian example: Brent Hayden
Decathletes compete in ten track and field events over two days while heptathletes need to master seven events over the same time. In order to be a high-level thrower, runner or jumper these athletes need to be very well-rounded. Harry Marra, who coaches Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton and 2012 Olympic Champion Ashton Eaton (USA) says this: “An ideal somatotype is 6’ to 6’3” between 170 and 185 lbs has good springy jumping ability and has some general speed and good kinaesthetic awareness.” It’s no surprise that the top decathletes and heptathletes are often referred to as the “best athletes” in the world.
Prototypical Canadian examples: Damian Warner & Brianne Theisen-Eaton
If I say “picture a basketball player”, be honest, the athlete you were envisioning is tall and lanky? According to a recent study, basketball players have the tallest average height of any professional North American sport and NBA centres are the tallest athletes on average at any position in those sports. Long arms can also help. Lebron James, who is six-foot-seven, has a wingspan of over seven feet and Michael Jordan (6’5″) had a wingspan of almost seven feet as well.
Prototypical Canadian example: Andrew Wiggins
More sports with a prototypical body type
Pairs Figure Skating