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The Science behind Winter Athletics

Speed skater. Photo Credit: Clipart.com.

With cold-weather sports currently occupying much of our international attention during the Winter Olympics, it can be easy to point to luck and talent as the reasons behind athletes' success. However, science must be given equal billing.

Science is involved in winter sports from start to finish. Whether it's meteorologists forecasting wind and snowfall that might affect competition or climate scientists considering how to make winter sporting events as sustainable as possible, particularly given these sports' reliance on cold weather for ice and snow. But even with that, scientists are working on alternatives, including plastic “ice” that could help warmer countries be competitive in sports that traditionally favor chillier nations.

What areas of winter sport are science involved in? The design of the outfits athletes wear, for one. Sports clothing has changed significantly since 1924, when the first Winter Olympics was held. Now, competitors must consider increasing safety, combatting the cold, and decreasing resistance.

Athletes must consider the science of motion as well as physiology while competing, but they must also take science into consideration in their off-hours. It's necessary to build up endurance, to eat properly, and to go into their events with the proper mindset.

Equipment and venue design are other areas where scientists weigh in on sports. In skiing, how skis are adjusted to the day's conditions and the ski wax used can affect outcomes. And ice technicians can help keep the ice glass smooth for curling, managing the cooling system that keeps skeleton tracks at a consistent temperature, and making the track fair for speed skaters. Snowboarders rely on courses being set with accurate angles and flight trajectories being taken into consideration for their craft.

But it's not just helping athletes reach their peak performance where scientists weigh in. Science also tries to prevent athletes from taking advantage of loopholes, secret technology, and performance-enhancing drugs in competition.

Are you looking to explore the Winter Olympics or winter sports in your classroom? Check out Science NetLinks' Reaching for Olympic Glory collection. The New York Times also has resources for teaching the subject matter across the curriculum.

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