This piece originally appeared on Livemint.com
Standing just a centimetre short of six feet, silver medallist P.V. Sindhu was the tallest player in the women’s individual badminton event at the Rio Olympics. At 21 years, she was also one of the youngest. Sindhu weighs the same as Saina Nehwal, but the latter carries the same weight on a frame that is 14 cm shorter. For Sindhu, one of the rare Indian bright spots in Rio, that alchemy of reach, lightness and youth worked in her favour. Physically, she was well-matched compared to her rivals.
Sindhu was the tallest player in women’s singles
Sindhu was a rare instance of an Indian sportsperson matching up well physically against their competitors. In most cases, Indians don’t size up well against their rivals, shows data on height and weight from the official website of the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Take the Indian men’s hockey team, which was tipped for a medal. Its average height of 1.77 metres made it the shortest among the 12 teams in the competition—7 centimetre less than Germany, the tallest squad. With an average weight of 73 kg, it was the lightest—7 kg less than the leader, once again Germany.
Indian men’s hockey was the shortest
Height and weight matter differently in different sports. In hockey, for example, the sport has moved from an emphasis on dribbling skills—in the penalty shootout in the women’s hockey final between Germany and Netherlands, nine out of 10 players failed to beat the goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation—to speed and aggressive body play.
Studies have shown that players have an arm span 5 cm more than their height and a stride length on synthetic turf of 1.35 times their height, and they take two strides per second. A rough calculation, built on these numbers and the average height of the hockey teams at Rio, shows that, all else remaining equal, that height disadvantage resulted in the Indian player being 0.217 seconds slower than his German counterpart over a distance of 27.5 metres (between the top of the shooting circle and the half line).