Tag Archives: UK

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.

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Pain killer epidemic in FIFA action?

The Independent in the UK is suggesting that many professional athletes are risking their  careers by dosing up on pain killers to stay in the game. The piece comes after the medical head of FIFA, Dr. Jiri Dvorak, revealed that nearly half the footballers at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa were using anti-inflammatory painkillers. The article suggests that the problem goes well beyond football, and that it’s time for people to take notice.

FIFA’s Jiri Dvorak

Here’s part of that story:

“Unfortunately, there is the trend to increase the intake of medication. It is something that we have to really take seriously,” Dr Dvorak told the BBC. He cited the pressure on team doctors to get players back on the field as quickly as possible.

“Most of them, they are under pressure between the diagnosis and appropriate treatment, and between the pressure to bring the player back on the pitch. If they take them out for too long they might be out of a job,” he said.

Several players have described the damage done to themselves after they agreed to accept painkilling injections, normally of steroids into painful joints, before matches. Although the injections can be helpful in the short term, they are not recommended long term because of the risk of damage to tissues. Steroids weaken the immune system and can thin cartilage and there is a risk of infection from the injection.

Garry Monk, the Swansea City defender, described last year how he had had “one too many injections” in his back to help him to play, which had damaged a nerve, leaving him without feeling in his right foot.

Dr Dvorak’s views were echoed by Hans Geyer, the deputy director of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Dr Geyer said anti-inflammatories qualified as a “doping substance”, which allowed endurance athletes in particular to complete feats of running or walking that would not otherwise have been possible.

He warned footballers were trying to make themselves “insensitive” to pain.

“If you switch off alarm systems that protect your tissues, you can have irreversible destruction of tissue.”

There are a number of issues related to the over use of anti-inflammatory medications. First, masking pain can permit activity that will cause further injruy.  Second, the side-effects of the drugs can be serious, both short and long term.

Dvorak’s comments were made public as Euro 2012 is set to kick-off in Poland and the Ukraine later in the week. More than 50 players have already bowed out of the tournament because of injury, and some people are blaming the ever-increasing demands of the international football calendar.

Water’s Transforming Power

Deadman's Corner. Grantchester Meadow, UK. Photo courtesy the Outdoor Swimming Society

Taking back the water.
Not to drink, but to swim in.
Read on about the UK’s Outdoor Swimming Society, and leave a comment about the group’s move to get people out of indoor pools and back to the great outdoors. And if you have a favorite swimming spot, you may want to write about that too. Continue reading