Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

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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Monday, December 21, 2009

Looking back on 2009 and ahead to 2010

Top 9 of 2009 and our picks for 2010

It has been a record slow period for us here, so please excuse our lack of posts for the past few weeks.  Between Ross catching up after a long trip to the USA and his work with the SA Sevens team, and the end of the semester here at UIC, neither of us found much time to get online.  Fortunately for us the sporting calendar has been slow, with the Fukuoka Marathon as being the only real event during this time.  As an aside, Tsegaye Kebede successfully defended his title from 2008 and lowered the course record to 2:05:18, which means his best three marathon times are now 2:05:35 and it solidifies his status as a major contender in any race he lines up, at least for the next 12 months. 

Of course the other big news in sports is the Tiger Woods debacle, and we have read and heard many interesting pieces on this topic.  A commentary from the Sports Scientists will come, but for now suffice to say that I was not surprised one bit when the news broke and as it continued to break, and in fact one has to ask that perhaps his legendary performance and status as a fierce competitor is because of the qualities we are now hearing about,  and not the other way around.

Looking back on 2009 and ahead to 2010

As has become customary on the site, we like to look back at the year in Sports Science and give you our picks of what we think are the top stories of the year.  Last year it was the "Top 8 of '08," and so accordingly this year it will be the Top 9 of '09!"  The series will look back at the Top 9 sports stories of 2009, from the perspective of Sports Science.  We will follow our Mission Statement and Vision, as our purpose here is to provide that second and third-level of insight, to look beyond what happened, and try to interpret how it happened, why it happened.

At the end of the countdown we will whip out The Science of Sport Crystal Ball and pick what we think might be major stories in the year ahead.  Of course it will be an Olympic year, with the winter games in Vancouver starting on 12 February.   Traditionally we have not written much about winter sports, but as sports scientists you can be sure we will follow the games and provide the insight we can considering that the first time Ross saw snow was in 2007 and the only experience I have in winter sports is watching my neighbors cross country ski along the boulevard in front of our apartment!  Interestingly, though, my new office mate works with the US Curling team, and so I will be leaning on him for some insight into the winter sports and vibe from the games!

In the mean time stay tuned for the #9 story of 2009 followed by the countdown to #1!



Anonymous said...

Curling is right up there with golf in terms of athleticism, so that will be awesome. Will you guys now start covering bowling and darts?? Cup stacking is pretty demanding as well as a big hit with the kids, so maybe a few posts about that are in order. I hear playing video games all day long requires Phidippidean levels of stamina. Well worth a look-see, no?

The AP named Jimmie Johnson, an American stock car driver, Male Athlete of the Year today:


He is such a stud that he can also break 35 minutes for a 5 mile run. Why aren't you covering him?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous, and thanks for your comment.

I wonder often why it is that the most critical comments are left by anonymous individuals.

In any case can I suggest working on your reading comprehension skills, as I never once said we would be writing about the sport of curling. Instead, I mentioned merely that my colleague and office mate will be at the games working with the curling team, and I would look to him for some insight into the atmosphere in Vancouver since he will be in attendance.

As a sports scientist I can appreciate the motor control and practice required to produce such consistently accurate and complex movements such as those seen in bowling, darts, or even curling. I do not doubt for a second that I can beat any of those individuals in a 5 km run, but then again they will cane me in their sport.

I am not a NASCAR fan, but independent of the athleticism involved in driving his accomplishments within racing are notable. But also one must put that award in context and think about how much weight a sporting award from the AP carries. . .it is not exactly the Nobel of sporting awards.

Because I am not convinced you can comprehend what I am saying, I will put it in plain text. These awards are more ceremonial than anything else, and any organization---sporting or otherwise---doles out these kinds of titles each year.

Kind Regards,

Tiger's Woodie said...

Okay, how about I call myself Tiger's Woodie? Happy now, Mr Scientist?

My reading comprehension is just fine, thank you very much. Here is what you wrote:

"Interestingly, though, my new office mate works with the US Curling team, and so I will be leaning on him for some insight into the winter sports and vibe from the games!"

Do you honestly think Curling Guy will have meaningful "insights" into ski racing or speed skating?

Jimmie Johnson may be a (rather deluded) sportsman, but he is not an athlete--"the athleticism involved in driving" is negligible. Same goes for darts, bowling, golf, etc.

And the Nobel Prize still means something? Yeah, right. Like Obama is a man of peace. Just like Henry Kissinger or Teddy Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson.

I suggest you get a brain.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous = Verbal flatulence.
please, move on.

The 9 iron.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Anonymous (I shall refrain from calling you by the distasteful name you gave yourself)

I think you're very narrow-minded about sport (and probably life), if you believe that "athleticism" does not span more than the ability to sprint fast or run far. I would assume you believe that athletes are those individuals like Usain Bolt or maybe Haile Gebrselassie who do what you cannot, regardless of how much you train. Perhaps you worship the ground Lance Armstrong walks on.

What you fail to recognize is that at the limits of performance, even in sports that you cannot comprehend as requiring athletic ability, there is considerable physical prowess. That prowess takes different forms - fine motor control, balance, concentration. I'd like to see you behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car for even 2 minutes to appreciate how "unathletic" you may in fact be. When NASCAR awards their best driver for his performances, and you mock him (and them, and somehow, us as well), you are betraying a level of insight that is embarrassing to you.

This site is for appreciation of sport, whether it's golf or curling or driving or marathon running. It doesn't matter, because there is something to admire in all of them. I'm not about to proclaim golfers or curlers as the greatest athletes in the world. I too enjoy watching Tour de France, basketball or athletics, where I can admire the physical capabilities of finely tuned athletes. I probably won't be watching curling in Vancouver, but I certainly appreciate that it requires a skill I don't possess.

And no, we won't be covering darts and bowling, because they're not our sports. But I'd be willing to bet that ten years of training wouldn't see you competitive with the best in the world in any of those sports. So what's wrong with your picture?

The answer is that you're too arrogant or narrow minded to appreciate that sport is more than lungs and muscles. It's a pity, you're denying yourself a world of enjoyment.

As for the curling consultant, I bet he'll have a great deal to contribute to other sports. I'd like to think sports transcend the barriers you have not yet broken down in your mind.


Ray said...

Good to see you guys back -- I was afraid you were under some kind of gagging order because of recent "critical" posts.

Regarding "anonymous"'s criticisms, I'd think he would be surprised how athletic you must be to race a car, in terms of strength and endurance.

And as an amateur practitioner of both bowling and darts (coincidentally two sports which mix well with beer -- another favorite sport), these "sports" require very little development of physical skill. The basic skills required to develop high accuracy can be developed in a few weeks (for darts) or a few months (for bowling). The challenge of doing well in bowling and darts is mostly mental (this probably represents a bigger challenge for "anonymous"). Once you have a couple of bad throws, how you deal with that separates the winners from the losers. These "sports" also develop social skills -- something that might interest "anonymous".

Didn't you guys look at video games already, evaluating Wii Fit or something?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ray

Nope, we managed to avoid the censors (this time!) I am sure there are a few who'd rejoice if we got the gag order, including certain politicians in SA, and maybe an anonymous poster or two, but our absence is for much more mundane reasons than that!

On the note of drivers, you're 100% right. I know Formula 1, not NASCAR, and those drivers are incredibly fit, great athletes. And you're right about the mental aspect of those other sports. Though fine motor control under pressure is a physiology that must be very interesting. I've no doubt that hundreds of darts enthusiasts can hit 180 60% of the time at home, but only a handful do it on television in front of people. That's clearly mental, but the end result is motor control which I think would be interesting physiology. Golf would be must the same, and probably curling.

Anyway, thanks for the comment and the patience for our absence!


Anonymous said...

It's a real shame that Anonymous responded to your posts in the abusive way that he did, because I think that there is some underlying merit to his position, however cantankerous and discourteous his exposition.

I myself have next to no talents in anything: physical, intellectual or otherwise. And despite years of diligent practise, I made next to no improvements in my levels of skill, as my unfortunate, erstwhile team mates would no doubt still be able to confirm, many years after they disbelievingly witnessed me fumble yet another catch, and fail to clear the rugby ball to touch even with my right foot, left alone my left.

Hours of painstaking daily practise in the squash court; on the tennis court; in the pool; on the golf course; on the shooting range – you name it: all have left no mark on my obdurate nature.

This largely accounts for why I have always run –because it needs relatively little skill to do so.

But a set of skills per se, no matter how highly tuned, refined or developed, is surely not the same as sporting prowess. The greatest chess players of all time, almost all male, have been highly skilled at the art of the chess – but would we necessarily say that they are great sportsmen? Paganini and Liszt were outstanding virtuosos at the violin and the piano – each practised twelve or more hours a day for many years to take their outstanding talents to the highest levels; Michelangelo and Leonardo achieved the same in painting; Shakespeare and Dante in poetry. But were they outstanding sportsmen because of this?

Pure mathematics; theoretical physics; code breaking; contract bridge; poker; blackjack (using card counting techniques); the game of Go; haute cuisine; cabinet making; dress making; orchid breeding: all these require great skill, self-discipline and years of conscientious practise to do well – but are they sports?

Now, of course, it also seems to be true that being in very good physical condition also seems to help when it comes to tackling life’s big problems: physical, intellectual, ethical or spiritual. (On the face of it, Stephen Hawking appears perhaps to be one well known exception to this principle – but how much further might he have advanced in theoretical physics if he were in perfect physical health?)

Is being in very good physical condition, then, demonstrably a necessary part of being a very good racing car driver; or a very good golfer; or a very good shot?

One perhaps may not unreasonably doubt it.

RUSH said...

I'm a "victim" of Hikaru no Go. Too. ^.^ I shortly after got myself a Go board. Now I play on the server KGS. If anyone were to just try the game they would probably love it as much. I usually visit this site: Game Of Go