Anthropometric Measurements of Olympic Marathon Champions

The Olympic Games brings together the best athletes in the world. Studying the changes in anthropometric measurements of Olympic champions can demonstrate how athletes in general have changed over 100 years of sport. The modern elite marathoners, exemplified by the Kenyans, are of mederate heght and are quite thin, in bodies built for efficient running. Looking back at the Olympic Games marathon champions, particularly before the advent of the Africans into the sport, body size varied quite remarkedly.

Kenneth McArthur, the marathon champion from 1912 Kenneth McArthur, the 912 marathon champion
(Height 1.88 m / 6 ft 2 in, Weight 77 kg / 170 lb)

Anthropometric Measures of Olympic Marathoners

Here is a table of the height, weight and body mass index (BMI) of the male Olympic marathon champions for most Olympiads (a few early details are unavailable). The graphs presented below show how these measures have changed over time. Generally, there is a trend for leaner (lower BMI) athletes more recently, though height and weight of the Olympic champion in the marathon has flucuated over time.

Year Winner Time Height Weight BMI
1896 Spiridon Louis (Greece) 2:58:50 - - -
1900 Michel Théato (Luxembourg) 2:59:45 - - -
1904 Thomas Hicks (USA) 3:28:53 1.68 m / 5 ft 6 in 60 kg / 132 lb 21.3
1906 William Sherring (Canada) 2:51:23.6 1.65 m / 5 ft 5 in 54 kg / 119 lb 19.8
1908 John Hayes (USA) 2:55:18.4 1.62 m / 5 ft 4 in 55 kg / 121 lb 21.0
1912 Kenneth McArthur (South Africa) 2:36:54.8 1.88 m / 6 ft 2 in 77 kg / 170 lb 21.8
1920 Hannes Kolehmainen (Finland) 2:32:35.8 1.68 m / 5 ft 6 in 57 kg / 126 lb 20.2
1924 Albin Stenroos (Finland) 2:41:22.6 1.73 m / 5 ft 8 in 64 kg / 141 lb 21.4
1928 Boughera El Ouafi (Algeria/France) 2:32:57.0 - - -
1932 Juan Carlos Zabala (Argentina) 2:31:36.0 1.65 m / 5 ft 4.5 in 55 kg / 121 lb 20.2
1936 Kee-Chung Sohn (Japan) 2:29:19.2 1.70 m / 5 ft 7 in 60 kg / 132 lb 20.8
1948 Delfo Cabrera (Argentina) 2:34:51.6 1.72 m / 5 ft 7.5 in 59 kg / 130 lb 19.9
1952 Emil Zátopek (Czech) 2:23:03.2 1.82 m / 6 ft 0 in 72 kg / 159 lb 21.7
1956 Alain Mimoun (France) 2:25:00.0 1.70 m / 5 ft 7 in 56 kg / 123 lb 19.4
1960 Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia) 2:15:16.2 1.77 m / 5 ft 10 in 57 kg / 126 lb 18.2
1964 Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia) 2:12:11.2 1.77 m / 5 ft 10 in 57 kg / 126 lb 18.2
1968 Mamo Wolde (Ethiopia) 2:20:26.4 1.70 m / 5 ft 6.5 in 54 kg / 119 lb 18.7
1972 Frank Shorter (USA) 2:12:19.8 1.78 m / 5 ft 10 in 61 kg / 134 lb 19.3
1976 Waldemar Cierpinski (East Germany) 2:09:55 1.70 m / 5 ft 6.5 in 59 kg / 130 lb 20.4
1980 Waldemar Cierpinski (East Germany) 2:11:03 1.70 m / 5 ft 6.5 in 59 kg / 130 lb 20.4
1984 Carlos Lopes (Portugal) 2:09:21 1.67 m / 5 ft 5.5 in 55 kg / 121 lb 19.7
1988 Gelindo Bordin (Italy) 2:10:32 1.80 m / 5 ft 11 in 68 kg / 150 lb 21.0
1992 Hwang Yeong-Jo (Korea) 2:13:23 1.68 m / 5 ft 6 in 57 kg / 126 lb 20.2
1996 Josia Thugwane (South Africa) 2:12:36 1.58 m / 5 ft 2 in 45 kg / 99 lb 18.0
2000 Gezahegne Abera (Ethiopia) 2:10:11 1.66 m / 5 ft 5 in 58 kg / 128 lb 21.0
2004 Stefano Baldini (Italy) 2:10:55 1.76 m / 5 ft 9.5 in 62 kg / 137 lb 20.0
2008 Samuel Kamau Wansiru (Kenya) 2:06.32 1.63 m / 5 ft 4 in 52 kg / 115 lb 19.6
2012 Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) 2:08:01 1.72 m / 5 ft 8 in 56 kg / 123 lb 18.9

source: height and weight data was collected from Wikipedia profiles of each athlete, and when none was available, from the sports-reference.com website.

Height changes over time

The height of the Olympic marathon champion has varied greatly over time, ranging from the 188cm (6 ft 2 in) Kenneth McArthur in 1912, to the tiny 1.58 m (5 ft 2 in) South African Josia Thugwane in 1996.

height of Olympic marathon champions

Weight changes over time

The weight of the Olympic marathon champion has generally decreased over time. The heaviest (and tallest) was Kenneth McArthur at 77 kg (170 lb) in 1912. At the other end of the scale, South African Josia Thugwane in 1996 was only 45kg (99 lbs).

weight of Olympic marathon champions

BMI changes over time

The BMI of the Olympic marathon champion has generally decreased over time. The BMI reflects the ratio of weight to height, the decreasing BMI a result mostly of the tendency for more leaner athletes in recent times.

BMI of Olympic marathon champions

Note: This analysis is for illustrative purposes only. The data was from different sources, and may also not accurately represent their measurements at the time of their race.

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