Field Theory by Hadyn Green


The Home Straight

Sometimes, reporters get it right, even if they do it in the stupidest way possible.

I was shocked when Usain Bolt was confronted by Andrew "the saveloy" Saville, but it turned out what sounded like a ridiculous question was the best one to ask:

The Saveloy: "Are you the greatest athlete in the world?
Bolt: "Seriously?"
Battered Sav: "Seriously"
Bolt: (big grin, swagger) "Yeah, I am the best athlete in the world"

Why did it work? Because Bolt is a larger than life, over the top sprinter. This is what I expect of sprinters. They are the Ferraris of the athletics world, fast and flashy. I don't want an athlete to run the 100 and 200 metres in world record time and then say "yeah it was a good race, full credit to the opposition". That's why I watch rugby (disclaimer: that is not why I watch rugby).

Saville's question to (eventual) silver medallist Shawn Crawford was equally as stupid, but was saved again by the charisma of the man answering:

Saville: "Have you ever seen anything like that?"
Crawford: "Yes, just not from that angle"

The interviews later with the Jamaican coach and head of sport was little more telling. With both repeating the word "natural" too much to seem, well, natural. Then again, I suppose after runs like Bolt has had they must have been fending off questions of performance enhancers all week.

How natural is it? Is it genetics that has helped the Jamaican and other Caribbean runners?

At the base of sprint speed are the fast-twitch muscle fibres stocked with the speed protein Actinen A. And early data indicate that 70 per cent of Jamaican athletes have the gene for Actinen A. Only 30 per cent of Australian athletes studied had the gene.

So, how good is this scientific evidence? Does the "Actinen A" gene (whatever that is) actually influence sprinting performance? And if so, does it explain the difference in explosive power between Jamaicans and the rest of the world? The answers, as it turns out, are "probably" and "not really".

That's the short version. The whole scientific explanation can be found at Genetic Future.

However, as always Onion Sports page gets to the heart of the Usain Bolt story for America:

On Usain Bolt Setting Two World Records In Two Races:
"What does this have to do with Michael Phelps?"

And was does it have to do with Phelps? Apparently the water-cooler discussion is now all about who is the greater athlete, Phelps or Bolt?

If we do some jiggery-pokery (and that's all it is) with the numbers we might get a better sense of it. Let's take Phelps in the Men's 200m Freestyle and compare that to Bolt in the Men's 200m sprint.

  • The average time for the swimming across all competitors was 1:45.81; Phelps' time was 2.85 seconds faster than the average, he was three percent faster than the field average (swimming at 1.94m/s, almost 7kph).
  • The average time for the sprint across all competitors was 20.07 seconds; Bolt's time was 0.78 seconds faster than the average, he was four percent faster than the field average (running at 10.36m/s, a little over 37kph).
  • It should be noted that the second and third place-getters in the 200m final were disqualified, lowering the average speed

But, really, I don't want to pick because I think it's a silly question, though I will say this: I think Phelps could run better than Bolt could swim.

Want some more numbers fun with the medal table? This gadget from Channel 4 in England let's you sort by population, GDP, human rights, and "American sorting". Interestingly on the combined "table of tables" New Zealand is sitting fourth.

You know it's been a dull, rain soaked day at the Olympics when the coverage is of table tennis semi-finals. I'm all for keeping sports like synchronised swimming at the Olympics, but I am all for dumping sports like table tennis.

The match last night between Russia and Japan was really close and went to, like, six or seven match points before the Japanese guy took it out. Were there shouts of joy or an explosion of emotion at having overcome a worthy opponent who had almost fought back from the brink? No, there was the briefest of handshakes between the players (so short you needed to go to the Omega Time Room to see it) and then they both walked away. Even the commentator seemed disappointed.

Peter Williams introduced the matches by making two interesting comments. The first was about the fact that the table tennis matches were only sparsely attended: "You'd think it would be a popular sport in China". I'm not sure why it would be a popular sport anywhere to be honest. The other was about what the sport's organisers are planning to entice more perverts people: "[Similar to] beach volleyball they want the female competitors to wear skimpy shirts, err, skirts and probably skimpy shirts as well. Apparently now they wear dowdy [polo] shirts".

And speaking of beach volleyball last night we got to see what every television director has been waiting for: a women's beach volleyball match played in pouring rain.

Catching up
These are things I've been meaning to mention (sometimes the internet is too big):

  • And finally, I know the Olympic motto isn't Harder Better Faster Stronger but you can still have a Daft Punk-out at the fencing (or you could've while it was on)

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