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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Exercise in the heat - Craig Mottram undone in Osaka?

Craig Mottram was one of the "hot" (excuse the pun) favourites for the Men's 5000m final at the recent IAAF World Championships in Athletics. As we all know by now, he finished 13th out of a field of 14, who ran the race in the slowest time in Championship history! Hardly the performance of a pre-race favourite.

In the immediate aftermath of that race, Mottram was reported as "struggling to find the reasons", saying only that he was "gutted". A week has now passed, and Mottram's coach is suggesting that it was Mottram's failure to adapt to the heat that was responsible for the disastrous performance.

Nic Bideau, who has coached Mottram for eight years, was of the opinion that Mottram should have finished second at worst in that race. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, he stated that "He just couldn't run. He didn't deal with the conditions well."

Apparently, Mottram did not travel to Osaka in the weeks leading up to the race to adapt to the hotter conditions. In a previous post, we described how the two factors that determined one's ability to run in the heat were body size (larger runners struggle more) and adaptation to the heat. Mottram had neither in his favour. Obviously, his larger body size is something outside of his control, but the choice to spend his preparation time in the cooler city of Chiba is a somewhat strange one.

Admittedly, he was not the only one to do so - apparently (according to his coach), many other athletes prepared from London and were able to cope with the high temperatures. I wonder who they were and whether they were perhaps much smaller runners than Mottram. That would certainly account for their ability to cope.

Also, it's interesting to speculate what training he might have done. From the report, it seems that Mottram was based in Chiba for four days, and then travelled to Osaka on the Tuesday before his Thursday qualifier. As we described in the previous post, it would take 6 days to adapt to the heat, but when the athlete has only two days before racing, followed by only two days before another race, that adaptation may never happen, which could well explain his poor performance.

Regardless, it seems that a lesson was learned, especially ahead of the Beijing Olympics, where conditions should be equally challenging. It's just curious that they needed to learn this lesson as "self-experiment" when the evidence and basis for what they should have done is everywhere to be found and freely available. So a failure of intel and planning is more to blame than the heat...