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Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Upcoming attractions

Sports' purple patch - a preview of forthcoming attractions

The period between Easter and July is always the best part of the sporting year - it starts with Two Oceans (for me, anyway!), then the autumn marathons kick into gear with London and Boston, and that's followed by the start of the track and field season, the Grand Tours of Italy and the Tour de France, and the peak of the tennis season, with the French Open and Wimbledon on the horizon (unless of course, you're Roger Federer and have two months of red clay to deal with)

It's a fantastic time to follow sport, and for us at The Science of Sport, a fantastic time to analyse, discuss and debate the "behind-the-scenes" aspects of those sports. So this is something of a housekeeping post, just to inform you of what we'll be doing over the next month or so, with the added appeal to keep reading, keep promoting and spreading the word to others who might enjoy our analysis. Also, don't forget our Facebook site, which you can now join to be part of the Science of Sport community!

The Marathons

The purple patch starts off with the Boston Marathon, which is next Monday. That's followed just under a week later by the London Marathon. Depending on your inclination, London is still the premiere race, with its field of World and Olympic champions, and the World Series champion from last year. Heading the bill is Sammy Wanjiru vs Martin Lel, a clash of giants that many predict will see a world record. I'm not so certain about that, but it will be a great race. Plus it sees the debut of Zersenay Tadese, and with his half marathon credentials, he should be fearsome over the full distance.

Then again, Boston brings us Robert Cheruiyot vs Ryan Hall, perhaps the only man who can challenge the African dominance over the distance right now (with regards to both time and racing credentials). So both Boston and London should produce fireworks. As has become our tradition, we'll preview both (I'll probably put my head squarely on the block and predict the tactics, the times and the winners), and then ON RACE DAY, WE'LL DO OUR USUAL REAL TIME SPLIT ANAYLSIS.

Those two races will take up much of the next few weeks. If small stories (or a big one) pop up, we'll be sure to cover those two.

A fascinating interview - worth a read and a series of discussion posts

But one story that we definitely have in our cross-hairs is our commentary on this interview:

NY Velocity speaks openly with Dr Michael Ashenden

This is an interview that was done by a reader, Andy, who kindly sent us the link. Dr Michael Ashenden is an Australian scientist who has been involved with the development of the tests for both EPO and homologous blood doping.

In this interview, he speaks openly and honestly about Ed Coyle, Lance Armstrong, doping in cycling and in particular, Lance Armstrong's samples that tested positive for EPO in 1999.

The interview is long, and because of that, what we will do after the Marathons are done (in May, that is), is break the interview down and run excerpts of it, with our comments and thoughts on the content. That way, hopefully it serves to stimulate more thought and debate, because quite frankly, it's too good an interview with too many important aspects that MUST be read, listened to and understood. Failing to do that would be a shame.

It is a fantastic interview because one does not often get an "undiluted" opinion of truth from someone with insight, education and experience. This interview offers all three. Our regular readers will appreciate that we relate to the idea of openness, and that we're not shy of stating facts and opinions based on those facts (as with Oscar Pistorius, Ed Coyle and doping in sport). That is what Mike Ashenden is all about.

You'll also recall that we covered the whole Ed Coyle-Lance Armstrong controversy a while back (a topic for which some people were scathing - we were criticized for lacking "scientific validity" on this website when Coyle had committed the equivalent of scientific fraud in a scientific journal!).

This interview will re-ignite some of that debate, and then some.

So I'd really encourage you to read it if you have the chance. If not, don't despair, because as I said, we'll break it down and cover parts of it. But only after the Boston and London Marathons, which are next on the horizon!

So join us for Boston this week, London next!



Ray said...

Are Boston and London considered autumn marathons in SA?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ray

Well, yes, April is autumn here, I suppose I should put myself in the "local" context and speak of them as spring marathons, but my own calendar says that there are Autumn races (Two Oceans, London, Boston), and there are SPring races (Berlin, Chicago, New York).

Matter of perspective, I guess.


Neil Hart said...

I was telling someone the other day about the lower standard of running in SA, based on what you had said about 2:20 marathons being considered fast. But they said hang on, what about the fact that many marathons are run at altitude in SA... so that is a thought, if we were to take highveld athletes to see level and have them run on the flat courses in Berlin, London, Rotterdam etc. what times are they likely to do there? How much slower are they at altitude?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Neil

They used to run most of the marathon up on the highveld, but these days, the SA champs and obviously Oceans are sea level, and so are many of the bigger races (Cape Town Marathon, Peninsula). And they're just as slow, winning times in the 2:16s or slower.

The altitude races are typically won in 2:20-something times. Last year's Soweto Marathon was won in 2:19:34 by an athlete from lesotho, with the best SA runner

The Durban marathon this year was one by a Lesotho athlete in 2:13, with the SA guy in 2:16, and the Joburg Marathon was won (again by a Lesotho athlete) in 2:18 with our best finisher 2:20.

So these are the best races, and while there is a 4 minute difference, the sea-level times are around 2:18, the altitude times even slower. I remember when Meck Mothuli ran a 61-minute half marathon at altitude though - it was a world record for altitude, so it can be done.

What is more concerning to me is not the relatively slow times in isolation (because that could be explained by altitude and course profile) but the fact that we've gotten so slow in the last ten years. The comparison reveals the story - I'm told that 15 years ago, we had ten men running under 2:12, we have only two this year.


Anonymous said...


I enjoy your site - provides lots to think about.

With that, I think it is a little heavy handed and a stretch to use the term "scientific fraud" in regards to the Coyle - Armstrong paper. Good arguments on both sides

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

I don't think so - it's strong yes, but intended. Coyle had no argument - he used the wrong equation, and when the researchers got hold of some of the data (after Coyle refused to provide it and then said he lost the rest), they showed his results to be completely incorrect when the correct equation was applied.

The rest of the paper was so weak that it became a case study in poor research in an undergraduate programme at a few universities, with reckless assumptions made regarding the weight and the impact of Armstrong's high heart rate. Then Coyle refused to retract the paper when requested, on the basis of this incorrect equation.

Finally, he accused those trying to pursue the truth of wasting their time, asking whether they had "real jobs". Extra-ordinary sequence of events, not scientifically credible and seemingly with knowledge. So I reckon it's a fair claim, mostly because of what happened afterwards.

But then perhaps I also need a "real job".

Thanks for reading, glad you enjoy the debate we help provide!