Thursday, August 14

A quick post with some Olympic ramblings ...

The Olympics have taken over the TV at the Armstrong house, which is fine. You can find us watching every night. Of course, the "real" Olympics start tomorrow with the beginning of the track and field competition. Though I've enjoyed watching those sports that I only watch every four years - swimming, volleyball, men's gymnastics, etc. - I'm ready for the "main event" to get started. Of course, my excitement about it has grown as I've had the chance to meet and work with more and more of the athletes who compete on that stage from a variety of countries. It will be fun to watch them.

One question that someone may have an answer to: what is the difference between swimming and track and field that allow an athlete like Michael Phelps to be able to set two world records within a couple of hours? One of the Razorback track coaches brought this question up but we didn't have a definitive answer. No track athlete could do the things he is doing. I don't think it is because they are less talented or aren't in as good of condition. There must be something in the nature of the sports. A track athlete couldn't run through 17 rounds of competition over 10 days and still be competitive. Tyson Gay pulled a hamstring on his sixth round at the Olympic Trials. Angelo Taylor qualified for the Olympics in the 400 meter hurdles, but 30 minutes later couldn't finish the 400 meter dash. I don't know if it is the way lactic acid is built up or dispersed, if it is the water, if it is the lack of "pounding", etc. Anyone have some wisdom on this?

One last Olympic issue before I quit. There has been some discussion on athletes from one country competing for another. There are US citizens competing for other countries in a number of sports, including track and field. These athletes didn't make the US team but found ways to compete for other nations - family heritage, playing professionally in other countries, etc. Are these athletes traitors to the US? Should they have said "no" to the chance to compete in the Olympics? One of these is a "friend" of mine. Jangy Addy was an All-American decathlete at Tennessee and is a great young man. He finished sixth at the US Trials, but because his parents were from Liberia he is able to compete for them. In fact, he carried the Liberian flag in the Opening Ceremonies.

On the other side of that coin are those athletes who weren't born in the US but not compete for the US as naturalized citizens. None of the three men running the 1500 meters for the US were born here (and there are some US born middle-distance guys who aren't too happy about that). Leo Manzano moved here with his family from Mexico when he was four. There wasn't much he could do about that. And Lopez Lomong was one of the "lost boys of Sudan" - orphaned and kidnapped, who finally found himself in a US foster home, then a US citizen, and now on the US Olympic team. That is a pretty sweet story. And then there is Bernard Lagat. Lagat won medals in the two previous Olympics for Kenya. Now he is a US citizen and running for the US. Let's just say there are a lot of cynical folks who wonder about his motivation for leaving home and coming here.

Here is an interesting editorial on the subject - just to get you thinking about it. Let me say, though, that I don't agree with the author in many of his points.


Jake T said...

I was wondering that, too, about Phelps. How can you even get in the water, let alone set another world record, after working that hard?

Pretty freakin' amazing.

Trevor said...
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Trevor said...

well, it may help a little that there are a lot less swimmers than runners, so there's not quite as much competition (still a lot though).

one thing that's a big difference is that with running, all the events are different distances that require totally different conditioning and even body types, whereas swimming has different strokes and medleys but mostly all at about the same distance with really similar training. there are longer swim events, but all phelps's events are 100m or 200m.

but my feeling is that the main difference is that swimming is more strength oriented (and anaerobic). on the track, you're carrying your own weight; it's about being light and quick. in the pool, you're pushing through the resistance of the water.

i don't think that completely explains it, but maybe that's part of it. but of course, phelps is also an anomaly. he's just so dominant that there is nobody comparable in track or maybe any sport. he's just that good that breaks records practically on cruise control. maybe if he didn't spread himself thin and just did one or two events he could have broken those records by even bigger margins.

most of the events in the pool are 100m or 200m and take roughly as much time as middle distances (400m or 800m) on the track.

in some way, the sprint track events are more similar to swimming, because strength is more important and wind is a bit more of a factor. but in other ways the sprint events are even more different from swimming than distance events because quickness is so crucial. for swimming, you want a fast reaction time off the block for the start, but once you're powering through the water you aren't using the fast twitch muscles so much. it's about torque, not high rpms.

jen said...

lafe and i think it is something to do with the "pounding." i am not discrediting what phelps does by any means, but track and field, especially track, athletes' muscles take more of a beating. again, not that swimming that much doesn't, but it's the impact on the legs, i would think. also, i'm not sure there are too many more swimmers besides phelps who could do what he does.

that's our guess. t-rev makes a good point too.

jen said...

also, i just watched the ceremony for michael phelps's last race and the illustrious bob costas mentioned that the placement of the finals for swimming in the morning rather than a few hours after their qualifying heats helps swimmers perform better. more records have been set at these olympics (with the finals the morning after the prelims) than at sydney and athens (prelims in the morning, finals at night) combined. so that could contribute to the world record breaking plus everything else t-rev and you brought up.