Could a woman's sports ability be predicted by her fingertips?

That seems to be the conclusion in a quirky study appearing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers included Tim Spector, MD, MSC, FRCP, of King's College London.

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The London researchers say the difference in length between a woman's index and ring fingers may foretell her success in sports.

Spector's team studied hand X-rays of 607 female twins living in the U.K., measuring the length of the women's second and fourth fingers. The women were nearly 54 years old, on average.

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The women noted their involvement in 12 sports -- swimming, cycling, running, gymnastics, tennis, badminton, squash, golf, skiing, soccer, cricket, and martial arts -- since age 11.

Their most popular sports were swimming (79%), cycling (61%), tennis (40%), and running (37%).

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The women also reported their highest level of sports competition:

  • Social level: 352 women

  • School team: 156 women

  • Club or university team: 72 women

  • County level: 21 women

  • National level: 6 women

For women whose second and fourth finger lengths translated into a low ratio, there was greater likelihood the women played sports at higher levels, the researchers report. A low ratio would result if the index finger is shorter than the ring finger.

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The ratio of those fingers' lengths may be set before birth and appears to stay steady throughout life, note Spector and colleagues, citing work by other researchers.

"This offers up the tantalizing question" of whether the finger-length ratio can be used to predict women's future sports potential, Spector's team writes.

And what about the hours of sweat, endless training, top-notch coaching, and sheer will that go into shaping a star athlete?

Spector's study does not address that.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Paul, S. British Journal of Sports Medicine, Sept. 28, 2006; Online First edition. News release, BMJ Specialist Journals.