Some thoughts on Vancouver 2010
It has been a quiet period here on the site, in spite of the Winter Games which I have been watching as much as I can. Lectures and students are demanding masters, and although the good news is that our enrollment in Kinesiology is up (over 700 students now), the "bad" news is that I get my fair share of those students, 150 to be exact, which in turn means plenty of contact hours per week plus marking lab reports and exams. Combine that with Ross's hectic travel and work schedule with the SA Rugby Sevens team, and the result is low frequency of posts and analyses! But mid-terms are finishing up and Ross is back in Cape Town, so we hope to be returning to a more regular output very soon. In the mean time let's start with some thoughts on Vancouver 2010!
History, both real and fabricated
Often times the stories that come with the Olympics compete with the games themselves, and this year was no exception to this. It started tragically with the death of Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed during a training run just a few hours prior to the opening ceremony. Thankfully this is an extremely rare event with the list of deaths containing only seven athletes since 1912. (This excludes the 11 Israeli athletes who were killed by a Palestinian group in Munich in 1972.)
The "fabricated" historical events then lead the way, with everything from the "most medals by a [enter nationality here]" to most golds to most medals over most games to whatever category one can dream up. Admittedly, it is interesting to know some of these stories as for some countries the medal drought has been particularly long and sustained, and knowing that an athlete has just won the first medal for his or her country in 36 years adds a more human aspect to the performance.
The Vonn rope-a-dope?
Anyone watching in the USA is likely suffering from Lindsey Vonn fatigue. She gets mentioned any time alpine skiing is the topic and I feel she lays it on pretty thick in her interviews. Going into the games it was all doom and gloom as she claimed to a have serious shin bruise that would hamper her chances of even competing. However when it came time to perform she won gold in the downhill by 0.5 s, which is quite a margin, before going on to claim bronze in the Super G. One has to ask if she exaggerated the effect of the bruise to psych out her competitors, because how can her status go from questionable to start to winning by half a second? Is she so much better than the others that even injured she beats them handily? Tactic or not, she was successful and might still pick up a medal or two in her remaining events.
On the topic of alpine skiing, seldom does a sport demonstrate the tiny differences between athletes at the top. The margins of victory are often in the hundredths of seconds, and one has to ask how on earth you make up 0.04 s in that event. It seems that even the smallest mistake, a missed edge somewhere, or a barely noticeable mistake on a landing from a jump, is the difference between gold and silver. And this brings up an interesting aspect of high performance sport and the management of athletes and performance.
Assumption: Everyone trains hard
Going into the high-profile events we have to assume that the top five athletes are all "equal," meaning they are all talented, trained hard and long, and are all motivated to win and believe they can win. Of course the results do not reflect this equality as we never see ties and in the end someone walks away with gold. So we have to look at how to gain an advantage at this very top of the sport, and to that we look to other intangibles outside of physical training, such as the role of management and sports psychology. Our resident maven Jim Ferstle sent us this article that highlights the role of sports psychology. I suspect the different techniques and methods the sports psychologists use are as varied and diverse as the athletes in the Olympic village. The take-home message is not that one has to believe in oneself to win, although that is certainly a prerequisite for success. Rather, the message is that that at the top of any sport the opportunities to separate yourself from the competition are small and rare, and any approach that can indeed produce some degree of separation is beneficial.
No dopers caught---yet
Over halfway thru the games and not one positive test has been returned, and this brings the normal cries of triumph (mostly by the IOC) that the games are clean. Nothing could be farther from the truth and by now we hope our readers understand fully that the number positive tests is in no way related to the number of athletes doping, because by now we have enough evidence of athletes who have admitted to doping without ever being caught, as well as national federations covering up positive tests. However there is now a test for human growth hormone, and in fact English rugby player Terry Newton tested positive in November and has been banned. We do not know much about the details of this test, and no one knows if it will be used on the samples from Vancouver, so perhaps down the line we will see some positives as the games end.
Looking ahead: Marathon season abounds
Seeing as it is already the end of February, we can start anticipating the spring marathon season which will kick off with the Boston Marathon on 19 April and London one week later. Those are still some weeks off, but watch for favorites to start testing themselves in shorter races in March as they finish up their training. You can be sure we will cover these events with what has become our standard live splits and immediate post-race analysis.
For now enjoy the last few days of competition in Vancouver!