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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Post-Olympic prospects

Sport goes on...Post-Olympic prognosis

Well, I must apologize for the complete absence of posting or replying to any of your comments on our Olympic coverage over the last 4 days - I'm going to blame our absence on a "post-Olympic hangover", which saw us drop from 2 posts a day to none in 4!

The comments and feedback we've received have been fantastic, thank you so much for the support during the Games. But 2008 is but 8 months old, and there's a great deal still to come this year - the athletics season, the Marathons in Berlin, Chicago, New York and no doubt loads more sport to write about and start debates on! So stick around for what will hopefully be a good end to an already spectacular season of sport, courtesy Beijing.

Zurich athletics - the Olympics in one day

But we're back on the road again and looking forward to the upcoming sports action. There is no rest for the athletes from Beijing, because the biggest single day athletics meeting in the world takes place this Friday in Zurich. The "Weltklasse" (world class, literally translated) is often described as the Olympic Games in 3 hours, and this year it features 41 medalists from Beijing, as well as 14 Olympic Champions.

There are also some mouth-watering "rematches" to look forward to - Merritt vs Wariner at 400m, Lolo Jones vs everyone in the 100m hurdles, and Blanka Vlasic vs Tia Hellebaut in the high jump. Other athletes looking for post-Olympic "redemption" are Sanya Richards (400m) and Alyson Felix (200m)

There are also appearances by Kenenisa Bekele, fresh from a double gold in Beijing, Yelena Isinbayeva, fresh from (another) world record, and the Kenyan women who took out gold at 800m (Palema Jelimo) and 1500m (Nancy Langat, though in Zurich, she'll be running the 800m, which could spice it up a little). Top of the bill though should be Usain Bolt, who has said he's "not tired" from his triple-medal winning, world-record breaking exploits in Beijing. Whether another world record is on the cards is difficult to say - I doubt it, given the conditions, the travel, the timing of the season, but with Bolt, who knows?

His coach is reported to have said that had he not slowed down, he'd have run 9.52seconds, which I think is on the extreme side of hyperbole, given that he'd have to find probably 0.2 seconds in the second half of the race, and his Beijing celebrations likely cost him no more than 0.1 seconds (though one commenter, who claims to have "an expert eye" reckons it was more than this). I think I'll trust the data, and not the "expert eye" - expert eyes are subject to bias and sensationalism, which seems to flying around lost these days...

The only two remaining contenders for the big jackpot of $1 million are Jelimo and Vlasic. Vlasic looked all but unbeatable until Beijing, so the pressure is on her to regain the ascendancy, while Jelimo looks, well, pretty close to unbeatable unless she falls horribly off the pace (she'd need to dop 2 seconds to be caught by the second place runner, such is her dominance).

In any event, we'll certainly be following the action and bringing you any news - world records in the distance events might be on the cards - Bekele looked so good over the last 3000m of the 5km that I wouldn't dismiss the chance of a real attack on that time. But, the big issues is travel fatigue and the same post-Olympic malaise we've been suffering from!

Looking back on the Olympics

The other thing that needs to be done is to look back on the Olympics a little more reflectively. Everyone will of course take their own top moments out of the Games, and for most, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt will top their "Highlights" reel.

However, if one looks a little harder at the "whole" of the Games, there are some pretty interesting stories to be found, and over the course of the next week or so, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of those issues.

Among them will be:

The cost of Olympic success?
My country, South Africa, won a glorious SINGLE silver medal, which has caused an outcry over here (hopefully, action will be taken). China on the other, topped the table with a staggering 51 golds, and Great Britain had their most successful Games in 100 years. We'll have a look at the strategies and systems adopted with a bit of scientific and management eye in the coming days.

The great Olympic nations: Who is the most successful Olympic nation for its size and economy?
China won 51 gold medals. Of course, you say, they have 1.3 billion people, they should win a truckload. The Bahamas on the other hand, won 2 medals with about 300,00 people, that's an impressive performance. We'll look at POPULATION PER MEDAL and also GDP PER MEDAL, in what is quite an interesting analysis. The results may surprise -

Swimming world records: Where to next?
Swimming world records fell at an almost unprecedented rate in Beijing - there were 25 world records, and only ONE Olympic record was not broken. But that doesn't tell the real story - there were at least 3 races where the team coming FOURTH broke the old world record but did not win a medal! Of course, we expected that would happen, given the Speedo LZR swimsuit's impact on performance, and the pool, but we now need to have a look at what it means for the sport of swimming.

Our own "top" lists
Of course, we have to make up our own list of reflections - greatest performance, best athlete, biggest disappointment. That's the fun part, but we'll certainly give it a crack in the coming days, perhaps first up.

I'm sure other cool topics will come up in the course of discussion, so we'll keep it open for now and say join us for that in the next few days for more Post-Beijing discussion, and of course, comments from the world of sport. The show goes on!



UIC Cycling and Triathlon Team said...

I'm curious to see what your two thoughts are on the supposed 'underage' gymnasts females from China.
What are the physiological impacts of competing at the Olympic level at such a young age? Will this have an impact on their bodies in the future? What is the significance on performance of having the girls perform at such a young age? Are these athletes better performers at a younger age, or are they capable of only improving in years to come And, if the latter is true, why would China risk having medals taken away from them by putting 'illicit' athletes into competition who only have the opportunity of improving in future Olympic games?

tim newman said...

no posts yet eh?...hey guys, ive been suffering major withdrawals over th last few days!

i am wondering if you can add a section to your site for visitors to post article suggestions, requests, or contributions?..

i finally managed to get hold of a video of the jamaican 4x100m t
&f relay and from that vision it looks to me like the individual legs went 10.0, 9.3, 8.9 and 8.9.

i.e. usain went as fast as asafa on the bend..

any way you look at it, these splits are pretty impressive.

Steve said...

What was the impact of the coaching on the track and field?
Jamaica seemed to dominate in every race, while America several slip ups. There were a few comments on the coaching and the impact that the changing of the American coach had on the athletes one year before the games began.
While the games always focus on the athletes, the true, behind the scenes stars (coaches, trainers, etc.) seem to have a bigger impact on the athletes team unity and athletic performance (especially the relay teams which require a far higher degree of coordination and practice).
What were the ramifications of switching head coaches so late in the game for America?
Was the coaching for the Jamaicans one of their strongest means for success, or were the athletes themselves the reason for so many successful outcomes in track and field?

Unknown said...

Well done on such a great website. It's nice to see someone going into the real detail of the science of sport. One thing I think is interesting, and might be worth an article is the LZR bodysuits in the swimming. What is mildly amusing is that you mention in the context of the 100m race that you prefer to go with the data rather than an 'expert opinion' - very commendable. But you then go on to repeat the assertion that the LZR bodysuit caused a big advantage, something which isn't actually proven one way or the other. It's probably worth you having a read of the following article and its suplement!



As you can see, it's not a simple issue!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi everyone

Just got time to respond to a few here:

First, to Mel, thanks for the links. I must defend my earlier assertion however - i do believe that the Speedo suits work. However, I have not yet committed my opinion to the WHY. The fact that so many records were broken in Beijing is a testament that SOMETHING IS DIFFERENT. That something is the suit plus the pool, which I wrote in the post. Whether or not that suit is working physiologically or because the swimmer "Believes" in it (as it stated at one point in the artice) is actually irrelevant, because "perception is reality", and what we've seen in Beijing is the reality that swimming records are falling because of the introduction of equipment.

Therefore, the data suggests that the suit makes a difference, simply because Beijing offered something of an uncontrolled "experiment" in which world class swimmers knocked percentages off their times having had the suit introduced. I recognize that other factors are in play,but to suggest that training factors since 2000 are responsible (as is done in the article) seems way oversimplified, considering the massive spike. The only thing I can see as having cause the spike is the introduction of the suit, though whether it's a placebo effect or not is debatable. And this may "shock", but even as a scientist, it wouldn't matter to me, provided teh effect existed!

Then to blogger Steve, the coaching thing is crucial. You see it in many sports,where a coaching change produces an almost instant change in performance. And I don't know the ins and outs of the coaching system in Jamaica (no one has really made that known yet), or even in the USA, it would seem that unsettled coaches will lead to unsettled athletes, and that's never good going into the Olympic Games.

As for coaching, it's the "final frontier", which may seem a little odd, considering that it preceded science in sports, but I really think that coaching methods, training techniques and the approach to athlete management is going to have big effects in the future of sport. It's absolutley crucial.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this tremendous site - very educational. A question ... I have seen passing references to the "pool effect" but no explanations. What is it about the watercube pool that is "fast"?

Andrew said...

Loved the Olympic coverage! If I may make a couple requests...

1) "Performance Enhancing Venues" - you've noted the pool, but what effects can pools, tracks, velodromes, etc. have on performance and how much is the effect? Several sprinters commented that the Olympic track was "very fast", for example.

2) Given your extensive Oscar Pistorius coverage and background with open water swimming, it'd be great to hear your thoughts on South African Natalie du Toit.

Anonymous said...

re. SA medallage - look at GB's haul in Atlanta vs now - welcome to Lottery funding, specialist centres, and niche sports eh? At least, I hope that's all there is to it :/ (*are* there PEDs for sailing?!).

Olympic comedown - how do we all cope? Keep posting guys, you're our only hope!

Middle aged mid packer

Anonymous said...

Swimsuits: I'd be interested to know what % of the people breaking the Olympic record were NOT wearing the new Speedo?
That might provide an interesting piece of information (though correlation does not imply causation.....)

Also - with regard to the gymnasts, I thought it was quite interesting that a woman over the age of 30 managed a silver medal in one of the disciplines (I think it was the vault?). Must be a first! given that most women gymnasts are regarded as 'past their prime' by age 25...

Anonymous said...

I found my own answer to the 'fast pool' within the blog ... just had to keep reading!

" ... A big factor is the pool - deeper, wider, and therefore designed to minimize turbulence and "wash", which helps the swimmers move quicker through the water. The pool is apparently 50cm deeper than the Athens pool and also has no shallow end - equal depth the whole way. There is also a "spill deck", which prevents water from washing back onto the swimmers from the side walls of the pool"

Steve said...

I just wanted to point out a couple things about the 33 year old gymnasts, Oksana Chusovitina, you were referring to.
She had quite a story behind her Olympic Silver Medal:
"She is the mother of a 9-year-old son who is in recovery from leukemia. It is that illness that brought Chusovitina to Germany six years ago. It is because of that illness that Chusovitina competes for Germany instead of her native Uzbekistan. And gymnastics helped save her son Alisher's life.... She and her husband struggled to find immediate treatment for Alisher in either Uzbekistan or Moscow, but Chusovitina also had a training base in Germany. It was there that Alisher began his leukemia treatments and it is why Chusovitina competes for Germany."

Her success may have been widely due to her motivation to raise money for her son, but it just goes to show that even though some countries may enlist controversial athletes [China's gymnasts perhaps], a 33 year old can still pull it off. Maybe her story goes to show that you don't need to be border-line in age to compete at the Olympic level. Should China have waited until the 2012 games to enlist their young athletes? Will they only get better, or have they peaked already at such a young age? And will their early-aged competitions potentially hinder their performances at future games, or end their gymnastics careers earlier than expected?
(This may seem like a trivial suggestion, but I'd like to know what the science behind early-aged, high level performance has to say on the issue.)

Anonymous said...

In regards to the LZR suits, they may well be made of a more water resistant material than previous models and position the swimmers in a more streamlined position. But you have to remember Speedo aren't stupid. It is Olympic year and all swimmers are going to be on top of their game. Of course they are going to be fast. Especially since they are being told they are the wearing the fastest suit ever made. So naturally Speedo will bring out a product like this and take all the credit for the world records.

Also no swimmer has the same body proportions as another. There are very few swimmers that have had their suits custom made. So surely a stock standard suit for a non speedo sponsored swimmer is going to be of little help and possible a hindrance. In say all of this, more often than not it is more important that an athlete uses what he/she thinks is the fastest.

Cabral said...

Re impact of venues on performance. Somebody has already posted on the difference the width and depth of pools can make.

I am sure we will have all noticed that in Beijing Lane 1 was not uesd for sprints, this is because the insode Lane was built for the distance runners and the outside Lanes designed for speed.

What I understand this means is the outside lane will be harder and have less give allwoing sprinters to really drive off the track.

The truly athletically nerdy amongst will remember that one of the big complaints from Toykyo World Champs from the distance runners was that hardness of the track while being good for the sprinters was killing their legs, and could potential casue damage to knees.

Cabral said...

Re Jamaica Relay splits..the BBC have offically reported the final two leg splits as 8.9 for Bolt and 8.7 for Asafa.

BTW for the 200m the offical 100m splits (as reported by BBC) are 9.96 for the first 100 and 9.34 in the final 100.

Anonymous said...

I really do think the suits are not as big of deal as people are making them out to be. Yes, they are fast. But word among the swimming community is that training methods have improved so much in the past 2-4 years and that is the major contributor to the fast swimming. Look at last years NCAA championships. The suits weren't aloud, and it was easily the fastest NCAAs ever!

Anonymous said...

Re the idea that the hardness of the track at the Tokyo World Champs was killing the endurance-runners' legs and possibly damaging their knees:

Don't forget that for most runners the sum of leg stiffness and running-surface stiffness is a constant. In other words, runners "soften" their legs on very hard running surfaces and make their legs stiffer on compliant surfaces.

The result is that the impact force traveling up the leg is relatively constant over a wide range of running surfaces. This is counter-intuitive (and of course varying surfaces can FEEL so much different), but that's what the research tells us.

Given this, it's not surprising that there is no scientific support for the idea that running on hard surfaces damages the knees to a greater extent, compared with running on soft terrain. Research tells us that the best way to increase the risk of knee damage is to adopt a sedentary lifestyle.

Cheryl said...

Swimsuits: I'd be interested to know what % of the people breaking the Olympic record were NOT wearing the new Speedo?
That might provide an interesting piece of information (though correlation does not imply causation.....)

Also - with regard to the gymnasts, I thought it was quite interesting that a woman over the age of 30 managed a silver medal in one of the disciplines (I think it was the vault?). Must be a first! given that most women gymnasts are regarded as 'past their prime' by age 25...