Newton at the Games: Sports Science
By Sharon Begley
NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Pheidippides ran 26 miles from the Battle of Marathon with news of the Greeks' victory over the Persians, he hadn't consulted any of the era's leading scientists on whether he should wear shoes, carbo-load, or do weeks of interval training.
Given that the first "marathon" runner collapsed and died as soon as he delivered his news, maybe he should have. But modern athletes don't make the same mistake.
Scientists, engineers, and technology gurus make crucial contributions to the Olympic Games, bringing fresh insight to coaches and athletes at each new round of the international competition. Knowledge gained in the four years since the Beijing Summer Games, from swimming to the discus throw, will help guide performance strategies in London later this month.
"Sport is a laboratory for science," said Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University in Durham, N.C. "Knowing the principles empowers the athletes and coaches, showing them how they should train and what techniques to use. Everyone is interested in knowing the secret to outstanding performance, and the secret is science."
Equipment does not play nearly as important a role in the summer Olympics as it does in winter, where bobsleds and skates, skis and luges reign. But it is crucial to one of the Games' biggest crowd-pleasers: swimming.
The hydrodynamics wizards at Speedo, part of the Pentland Group, have jettisoned the "dermal denticles" they put on swimsuits in 2000, tiny hydrofoils that were meant to emulate shark skin. This year, they debuted the "Fastskin3" system: a combination of cap, goggles and suit that streamlines swimmers into the closest thing to a barracuda this side of the ocean.
If swimmers do not break Olympic or world records, it will not be for lack of effort from the engineers at Myrtha Pools, a division of A&T Europe S.p.a. They have designed new features to prevent waves at the water's surface and currents below from increasing drag on the swimmers, which slows their speed. Seven Myrtha pools installed in the Aquatics Centre promise the fastest water ever.
For sports scientists focused on bodies, not gear, the work can range from analyzing the speed and strength components of the long jump to the most efficient execution of a back 2-1/2 somersault dive with two-and-a-half twists off the 10 meter board. Continued...