Sports: August 2008 Archives


August 17, 2008

I caught the last 15 minutes of the men's Olympic 10K final today. I wanted to watch the whole thing, but I had to go to a friend's house and they didn't give us any warning, so I missed the first ten minutes. [*]. Anyway, the race was fairly slow (yeah, yeah, I know, it's a bit odd to call sub 4:30 miles slow), but it looked to me like the athletes were holding back for a big kick in the last few laps. At the bell lap, WR holder Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) and Sileshi Sihini (ETH) made an incredible surge, leaving the rest of the field behind, and eventually Bekele put a full second on the rest of the field. Haile Gebrselassie, probably the greatest long distance runner of the past 25 years, if not of all time, had kept with the pack up to this point but just couldn't seem to stick with the break. [Gebrselassie used to hold the 10K WR, and has since moved up to the marathon but didn't compete there in Beijing because of concerns over pollution.] The winning time was 27:01.17, which is fairly far off the WR pace.

BTW, it's not clear to me that MS has done themselves any favors by having NBC serve video exclusively via Silverlight. I'm not saying it's MS's fault, but watching video at 2 frames per second isn't exactly a great advertisement for their technology.


August 2, 2008

Science has an interesting article about the effect of cooling vests on athletic performance. It's clear that overheating has a major negative effect on performance, so the logic here is that if you cool off before competition you'll take longer to overheat:
Since the 1970s, numerous studies have shown that precooling can dramatically affect some measures of athletic output. A 1995 study of 14 male runners found that if they were first chilled for 30 minutes in a chamber at 5°C, they could run on a treadmill at a certain level of exertion for an average of 26.4 minutes, a whopping 3.8 minutes longer than they averaged otherwise.

Olympic events are typically races over fixed distances, however, and the few studies of race times show much smaller improvements. In 2005, BYU's Hunter and colleagues studied 18 female cross-country runners, who had ingested encapsulated thermometers, as they participated in 4- and 5-kilometer races. Some wore ice vests for an hour before their race, and, on average, their core body temperatures were half a degree lower than those who did not, even at the ends of the races. But the researchers found only an insignificant difference of a few seconds in the two groups' average times.

Similarly, Kirk Cureton and colleagues at the University of Georgia, Athens, put nine male and eight female runners through simulated 5-kilometer races on treadmills. When the runners wore ice vests during a 38-minute warm-up of jogging and stretching, they finished the time trial 13 seconds faster on average than when they warmed up without them. That was a 57-meter lead over their warmer selves, and "even if it was 10 meters it would be important," Cureton says.

But Cureton and colleagues found that temperature differences vanished by race's end, suggesting that precooling is less valuable for long races like the marathon. It likely helps for races lasting between a minute and an hour, Cureton says. It definitely hurts in sprint events.

13 seconds is huge: the difference between the top three athletes in the 5K at the 2004 Olympics was less than a second. On the other hand, it's not going to take an ordinary athlete and make them an Olympian. Not much use for me either, since I do mostly longer distance events.