Sunday, March 2, 2014

How Do You Win Olympic Gold? Talent, Hard Work, and SCIENCE!

Dr. Dan Durben, Black Hills State University associate professor of physics, and member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic rifle team, recently spoke about science and Olympic gold medal winners.  Durben said. “Elite athletes have a whole team behind them. One critical area is sports science.  We study the actual physics behind what the athletes are doing… to get an understanding of what is happening.”

Sometimes You Think You Know the Answer.....
His first study involved determining why male figure skaters could do triple jumps and women could not. Coaches and athletes concluded that figure skaters use their legs; therefore, women must not have the leg strength that men do. They put the female figure skaters on a lower body program, but results did not change.

But You Really Need Science to Solve the Problem....
When the sport science team looked at the problem, they analyzed the physics to see what was going on when the figure skaters jumped. To generate a lot of angular momentum, figure skaters need to have their arms spread wide which in turn increases their moment of inertia. However, the tighter a skater is, the faster they can rotate so during a spin they want to pull their arms in. When spinning fast, the arms tend to fly back out, Durben said.
“The women didn’t have the upper body strength of the men to be able to go into a jump but snap those arms in fast enough to get around three times.” This research resulted in coaches putting their female skaters on upper body programs enabling them to complete triple jumps, Durben said.
This blogpost contains info from an article in the Black Hills Pioneer Newspaper, 2014.Thanks very much BHP.

To get a better understanding of how this works, click on the video below! In the first spin, the skater holds her arms out and spins slowly.  In the second spin, she must pull her arms in tight - this makes her spin much faster!