Field Theory by Hadyn Green


Long Weekend

It has been a long and sleepless weekend. A weekend of tremendous feats, where black became gold and inspiration was only a gnat's whisker away. The kiwis have dug deep and showed the entire world that we are indeed a sleeping giant. They come from a small town and the heart they show is part of an immense effort from that big engine they have in them.

Or something; I'm on a TVNZ commentator-overload at the moment.

But let's start with an American

Michael Phelps…for the last time

I called this blog Field Theory not only for the clever pun but also because I wanted to bring the science. And science is what helped Phelps win his medals (well science and freakishly large feet).

We all know about the NASA developed Speedo LZR suits, but what about Tim Wei? Tim Wei, a mechanical and aerospace engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, worked with members of the US swimming team and forced bubbles over their bodies in order to determine how fast and hard a swimmer pushes the water as they move through it (at least that's what he said he was doing).

"Wei uses a tracking technique called digital particle image velocimetry, commonly used to measure the flow of small particles around an airplane or small fish"

He also measures the amount of water forced backwards by the swimmers' kicks and can tell individual swimmers how to kick "better".

But what may have helped Mr Phelps a little bit more was measurement error (or rather measurement precision).

In his 100m Butterfly race Phelps beat Serbian Milorad Cavic by .01 seconds (50.58 to 50.59), the smallest unit of time on the clock. It was too close to call by sight and when the times came up I called the race a tie.

You would've heard of measurement error in statistical surveys (like political polls) but with measurement instruments it's a little different. If you have a ruler marked out in centimetres then you can only be accurate to the nearest centimetre. Hence the error in your measurement is (in a rough rule of thumb) one centimetre. So if your measurement tool measures time to .01seconds then your margin of error is (in a rough rule of thumb) .01seconds.

So the Serbs protested, and quite frankly, you'd be a fool not to. However, that's where my faith in science was (slightly) restored.

The Serbians were led into the Omega Timing Room where they were shown the two independent timing systems that measure the swimmers' times to .0001seconds. Beyond that they also have a "video monitor in there that blows any HD plasma out of the water". I'm dying to see the official pictures, but they have yet to surface (sorry couldn't resist the pun, and by the way check out the stills of frames two and three on this site and tell me who you think won)

But is there something slightly fishy about Phelps winning due to an infallible Omega timing system?

Lastly on the historic haul by Michael Phelps, nearly everyone is saying that "no one will ever repeat this feat" and I'm wondering why that is. At the very least there could be a female version.

I think we all worked hard for their gold

We are all very proud of our medallists and many of us stayed up to watch them do their thing. Yelling at the tv, scaring the pets and lamenting the awful announcing (all the bad bits have since been edited out of the replays).

Note that Evers-Swindell twins won by .01seconds as well. In their case I felt that the time was given to them artificially to somehow fit what the photo showed: that they won by a tiny, tiny section of their bow.

The pair with the perfect teeth scrapped hard with the competition and won at the end of a thrilling race that took guts and determination. Afterwards, they told TVNZ, they were in a state of "disbelief". They were shocked at being able to defend their Olympic gold after a recent slump in form.

Whereas the fantastic and supremely confident Valerie Vili won with her first throw (although four of her five throws would have secured gold). Vili yelled defiantly at the camera and made hand gestures (scroll down that page), she leaped about with pure joy when she won and she challenged the establishment when she tried to retrieve a New Zealand flag from the crowd.

So, which gold medallist do you think best represented New Zealand?

By the way, wasn't good that Mahe Drysdale faked all that illness, weight-loss, memory loss* and finally vomiting just to break New Zealand's bronze medal drought?

*I love the opening line of that story: "Mahe Drysdale was so out of it…" All they needed was a "bro".

The actual sport

  • Various athletes have already been thrown out of the games for various reasons. The Swedish bronze medallist in the wrestling was thrown out and stripped of his medal for… throwing away his medal.
  • Kim Jong Su of North Korea was thrown out after he tested positive for propanolol. Su had won the silver medal in the 50m pistol and bronze in the 10m air pistol. Propanolol is a drug that can be used to suppress trembling. This makes Su the first medal-winner to have been found cheating.
  • Vili's gold medal was our first in Athletics since John Walker in Montreal and our first in the field events since Yvette Williams in Helsinki
  • Gizmodo may just help us view those foreign broadcasts we all want to have a gander at
  • Only on a day where we win five Olympic medals can the All Blacks blanking the Springboks in South Africa (for the first time ever) be second page news. And that was a great game by the way, featuring Captain Tackles at his best. Also Bay of Plenty is unbeaten, just saying.
  • Finally, the coolest things at the Olympics are often the sideshows. The volleyball cheerleaders, Ms. Bug Catcher and the Sandbonies, the water-drum girls. But my favourite is the Jaws theme music, which is played as the waterpolo players race out to get the ball at the restart.

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