By the numbers

Chantal Petitclerc and her former coach Peter Erickson show off their accreditation

She’s one of her generation’s greatest athletes, and she recently completed one of the biggest turns in her career. Chantal Petitclerc was coaching the British team at the 2012 Paralympics, and success was once again her middle name. The coaching stint comes after being a star competitor at the Games over two decades.

She’s kind enough here to share “My Games by the Numbers” with Good4sports.

Mes jeux en chiffres!


20 : Number of events by the 4 athletes I was working with, including rounds and finals. My job was to surpervise and coordinate times for transport, warm up, be there from start to finish, including coffees before, and talks after!  This also explains the number of coffees.


11 : Gold Medal count for the track & Field GB team.  They only had 2 golds in at the last games.  Back from Beijing UKA hired my former coach Peter Erickson as the paralympic head coach. 4 years later the team has its best performance ever. Coincidence? Don’t think so!!


: Medals won by the group I was supervising. 5 of them gold. More than some countries


59 : Lattes I drank during the games. First one at 7 with Team Leader Peter Erickson, just before leaving for the stadium with the athletes. We were never really back to our rooms until 11h00. Starting with day 5, the lattes also included and extra shot of espresso.


3 : Moments brought tears to my eyes, but will keep them for me!


: blisters covering Shelly Woods’ hands after her silver medal marathon performance. After a tough week struggling on the track in spite of being in great shape, she gave everything and made it to the podium for the last event. Brilliant!


5h30 : average dayly sleep I got during the games. Still recovering.


81 000 : Spectators in the stadium. Passionate and loud. A full stadium for morning semi-final sessions at the paralympics, thats something I had never seen before!


1889 : number of texts I send and received on my iphone during the games..


128 : Number of time I had to show my acreditation to security control.


15;82 : new world record in the 100m for Liu Wong, who beat my world record of 15;91 from Bejing.  A little pinch, sure, but thats what sport is all about, pushing limits.


Stopped counting : number of times I was asked :  «  so, you miss it? » My answer; not a single bit. A clear sign that it is indeed a privilege to retire when having acomplished all my goals.


Stopped counting : number of times I was asked : «  is it weird, wearing the GB uniform? » My answer : Not a single bit! They are an amazing, positive team who trusted me, and allowed me to live one of the most amazing experiences. I will never forget the generosity of all coaches who gave me time, good advice, shared their knowledge, or just gave me a smile when we passed on the way back and to the stadium.  Thank you all!



Moderate exercise in mid-life helps

More evidence that we need to get active in mid-life if we want to protect the old ticker.

The BBC is reporting on a study published in the journal Circulation that looked at inflammatory markers in the blood of participants over a ten-year period. You can read the full story here.

This is how it closes:

Dr Mark Hamer, of University College London, who led the research, said: “We should be encouraging more people to get active – for example, walking instead of taking the bus. You can gain health benefits from moderate activity at any time in your life.”

Maureen Talbot of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the work, said: “Donning your gardening gloves or picking up a paint brush can still go a long way to help look after your heart health, as exercise can have a big impact on how well your heart ages.

“This research highlights the positive impact changing your exercise habits can have on the future of your heart health – and that it’s never too late to re-energise your life.

“However it’s important not to wait until you retire to get off the couch, as being active for life is a great way to keep your heart healthy.”

A Mini Olympic Celebration

Gotta hand it to the Brits after London 2012. And, as I am a big fan of the Mini, I feel it’s OK to post something, that for the first time on this blog, is an actual advertisement!

Trail Running with Real Gold at Stake!


Re-connected today with Mihira Lakshman, editor-in-chief at Canadian Running magazine, and was delighted to read his feature on trail runners staking claims for prospectors in Northern Ontario. I didn’t realize the practice existed, but the tradition goes back a while. Talk about taking running to a whole new level. You can read the whole story here.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Gosselin remembers one incident when a rival prospector stole his final post. “When I came in to write my finishing time down [on the final post], my post wasn’t there anymore. It was on camera that I came in first, but since I didn’t record it on a post, it wasn’t really official,” he says. The camera didn’t show the post being stolen, but the company that hired Gosselin for that run later fought and won the case in court.

It’s a high-stakes game. Although the prospectors are sometimes shelling out hundreds of dollars to hire claim runners – even more for vehicle help – if they successfully earn the claim, mining companies could offer millions for the rights. “If you stake a gold mine, I can’t even put a price on it,” says Compass Exploration’s Norm Collins, who hires Gosselin to run for him a few times each year. “It’s a dirty game for sure. There’s a lot of backstabbing and a lot of illegal moves that happen out there,” Collins adds.

The process is steeped in tradition. The claim-stakers must “blaze the trail” between their corner posts to officially mark their territory. Runners carry hatchets as they sprint down the 400m stretches between posts, putting marks in trees every 50m. Usually the prospectors that hire the runners will mark the path with tape on the trees, but sometimes orienteering and bushwhacking are necessary. The main skill, however, is speed. Gosselin says cross-country athletes make the best claim runners since they are strong enough to handle the hills and treacherous footing. “I usually wear an aggressive trail shoe, and duct tape my shoe to my ankles, so it doesn’t come off. And you can build [the tape] up around your ankles to protect them.” Every few steps, he expects to fall. “You bite the dust, big time.

Although prospecting has been around in the area for a century, hiring runners to stake the claims is a relatively recent phenomenon. “It used to be just prospectors who would normally do this,” says Collins, who has been in the business for 20 years. His father, also a prospector, came up with the idea of using cross-country runners. Collins and his younger brother were both competitive high school runners, and they found the competition in claim-staking somewhat pedestrian in the late 80s and early 90s. “We used to kick butt,” he recalls. “Eventually a bunch of our friends from the local high school (Theriault High School in Timmins, Ont.) – a good running school – started doing it for my dad and other companies around town.”

Just let her run!

It seems that the world can’t stop talking about Caster Semenya….and casting dispersions.  After her 2nd place finish in the 800m final at the London Olympics, commentator Colin Jackson suggested she wasn’t trying (so she could avoid renewed controversy). I understand that her story is at once complex and fascinating, but it’s high time we just let her run and let the results speak for themselves. Here’s how the Buenos Aires Herald reported on Semenya’s return to South Africa:

Olympic silver medalist Caster Semenya has defended herself against allegations that she did not try to win the 800 meters at the London Games.

The South African who was forced to undergo gender testing after her 2009 world championships triumph, started poorly in the final, sitting at the back of the field until she produced a late burst to finish second to Mariya Savinova, 1.04 seconds behind the Russian.

Her performance led to speculation by television pundit Colin Jackson, three times the 110m hurdles world champion, that Semenya had deliberately avoided winning so as not to stir up fresh controversy like that in 2009.

“I tried my best, whatever people say. There is always talk but these people know nothing about athletics,” Semenya said at Johannesburg airport on Tuesday, where she received a heroine’s welcome.

South Africa’s sports minister Fikile Mbalula praised Semenya, a shy 21-year-old from an obscure rural village in South Africa’s northernmost province of Limpopo, as an inspiration to all those coming from similarly modest upbringings.

“I don’t know about her strategy in the race but she has made us very proud. Nobody gave her a chance but she showed the greatest guts of a young African woman,” Mbalula said while choking back tears.

“She has toiled out of difficulty to become a symbol of greatness and has shown that it doesn’t matter where you come from. From her small village in Limpopo, where the people are full of poverty, she has become the symbol of a courageous young woman.”

Semenya, who clocked one minute 57.23 seconds in the final, said she was satisfied with a silver medal but would be looking to go one better in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“I am happy with silver but it was hard work. I said to myself that I must get something from the race and I saw that the other ladies were tired. I had to pull out my turbo-boost,” she smiled.

“I’m concentrating now on next year, the world championships in Moscow, that is my main focus. The Olympics are still four years away and we learn by mistakes so hopefully I can do better next time and win the Olympics.”

Breaking the 9 second barrier?

Don’t bet on Prince Harry ever breaking the 9 second barrier. But how about Usain Bolt?

With the 2012 London Olympics set to go, many are wondering just how fast Usain Bolt and the sprinters will be able to go in the 100 metres. That showcase event is easily the most watched at the Games. It wasn’t that long ago that people asked whether humans could break the 10 second barrier (unaided by performance enhancing drugs)

At the BBC’s Future webpage, Ed Yong is asking whether it’s possible to predict whether the 9 second barrier will ever be broken:

That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer, and ploughing through the record books is of little help. “People have played with the statistical data so much and made so many predictions. I don’t think people who work on mechanics take them very seriously,” says John Hutchinson, who studies how animals move at the Royal Veterinary College in London, UK.

The problem is that the progression of sprinting records is characterised by tortoise-like lulls and hare-like… well… sprints. People are getting faster, but in an unpredictable way. From 1991 to 2007, eight athletes chipped 0.16 seconds off the record. Bolt did the same in just over one year. Before 2008, mathematician Reza Noubary calculated that “the ultimate time for [the] 100 meter dash is 9.44 seconds.” Following Bolt’s Beijing performance, he told Wired that the prediction “would probably go down a little bit”.

John Barrow from the University of Cambridge – another mathematician – has identified three ways in which Bolt could improve his speed: being quicker off the mark; running with a stronger tailwind; and running at higher altitudes where thinner air would exert less drag upon him. These tricks may work, but they’re also somewhat unsatisfying. We really want to know whether flexing muscles and bending joints could send a sprinter over the finish line in 9 seconds, without relying on environmental providence.

To answer that, we have to look at the physics of a sprinting leg. And that means running headfirst into a wall of ignorance. “It’s tougher to get a handle on sprinting mechanics than on feats of strength or endurance,” says Peter Weyand from Southern Methodist University, who has been studying the science of running for decades. By comparison, Weyand says that we can tweak a cyclist’s weight, position and aerodynamic shape, and predict how that will affect their performance in the Tour de France. “We know down to 1%, or maybe even smaller, what sort of performance bumps you’ll get,” he says. In sprinting, it’s a black hole. You don’t have those sorts of predictive relationships.”

Yong concludes that people placing ceilings on human performance  are ill-informed.  For now, I’m waiting for someone to break the 9.5 barrier.

Teenage fitness level and adult depression linked

A recently released study suggests better cardiovascular fitness at age 18 is associated with lower depression rates in adulthood.  Dr. Maria  Åberg, MD, PhD, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, in Sweden, said the correlation can be seen for up to the next 40 years of a person’s life.

This is how Medscape Today reports on the study:

“A proposed mechanism is that physical exercise could reverse the reduced neuronal plasticity that is observed in both depression and bipolar disorders. Previous human studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of depression, but most of these have been based on interviews with adults and the results have been inconclusive, and we felt that there was a real need for a large study with long follow-up times and objective measures of physical performance,” Dr. Åberg explained.

The researchers carried out a prospective cohort study of all Swedish men born between 1950 and 1987 with no history of mental illness who were enlisted for mandatory military service at the age of 18 years.

When enlisting, all 1,117,292 men were given extensive physical and psychological examinations, including tests of their cardiovascular and muscle fitness.

The men were followed between 1969 and 2008. The researchers used data from the Swedish National Hospital Discharge Register to see how may had received inpatient treatment for depression.

The study showed that the men who performed poorly on the cardiovascular fitness tests at age 18 years were at greater risk of being hospitalized with depression in later life.

After controlling for factors that included body mass index, conscription test center, and familial factors, the hazard ratio (HR) associated with lower cardiovascular fitness at age 18 for serious depression in adulthood was 1.96 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.71 – 2.23).

There was no such association found for bipolar disorder (HR, 1.11; 95% CI, 0.84 – 1.47).

“Doctors can tell their teenage patients and their parents that the brain needs two types of training, both cognitive challenges and physical exercise,” Dr. Åberg said.