Tips from Indiana University about the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens
EDITORS: The Olympic Games will be held Aug. 13-29 in Athens, Greece. The following Indiana University Bloomington professors can offer insights on the games.
Olympic swimmers in Athens will have a shot at breaking as many as 10 world records, according to the statistical model used by Indiana University kinesiology experts. IU kinesiologists combined statistics and probability to predict winning swim times for the U.S. Olympic trials and the Olympic Games. Based on their predictions, which can be seen at http://www.indiana.edu/~hplab/ccss.html, the games this year should be exciting, with American swimmer Michael Phelps in position to win a record number of gold medals. Natalie Coughlin also is poised to do well, said physiologist Joel Stager, director of IU's Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming and a professor in the Department of Kinesiology in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. The highly successful IU predictions use a power curve based on the natural progression of the sport, looking at the performances of all the athletes. Variables unaccounted for -- such as illegal steroid use by East German swimmers in 1976 -- show up as "blips," or marks that are significantly off the curve of the predictions. Stager said his swim time predictions and the actual times for the women's races in the 2000 Olympics showed a potential "blip." The predictions proved wrong for five of the 13 women's races, unlike the men's races, where the predictions nailed all but one race. If the predictions had been wrong for five of the men's races as well, it would have seemed likely the statistical model was flawed, Stager said, but that was not the case. "There was something going on in some of the women's races that we couldn't account for," he said. Stager noted that Phelps is "reaching a point of maturity" where he either holds or is about to set a number of records. If he wins seven gold medals in Athens, he would tie IU alumnus Mark Spitz's performance in the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Phelps is an unusual swimmer, Stager added. While most swimmers focus on one or two strokes and either sprints or distances, Phelps does it all. Stager serves on the sports medicine and science committees for the USA Swimming and United States Masters Swimming organizations. His research focuses on optimal performance. He also is interested in how routine physical exercise affects the aging process. IU Bloomington is home to one of the premier collegiate swimming and diving programs in the country, with its athletes claiming 51 Olympic medals. To speak with Stager, contact him at 812-855-1637 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The growth in size of the Olympics, due to the addition of "frivolous, made-for-TV sports," could drive up the costs of the world event and make hosting the games impossible for most cities, said Phillip Henson, professor in the Department of Kinesiology in Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Without changes, Henson said, the Olympics could suffer the same fate as the ancient Greek games. They existed for 1,200 to 1,400 years, he said, but died out when they became too big, too spectator-oriented and too violent. Henson, who was the track and field director for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, also is concerned about security at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. A major terrorist incident, he said, could mean the end of the Olympic Games. Henson said increased "nationalism" makes the games more political and increases the chances of terrorist attacks. "I believe athletes should compete for themselves and for the 'Glory of Sport and International Understanding,'" he said, "and not for the opportunity to wave a flag in someone's face." The ancient Greek Olympics, he noted, tended to worship the mind and body as one and kept politics out by declaring a "truce of the Gods" to allow safe passage for the participants. To manage the growing size of the Olympics, Henson suggests staggering the competitions over a longer period of time or limiting the sporting events. In addition to serving as competition director for athletics in Atlanta, Henson served as a competition official at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles and Sydney. His most recent research at IUB involves the sprint start and has resulted in a new starting block design. To speak with Henson, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 and email@example.com.
Talented high jumpers do not always have perfect form, according to Jesus Dapena, a biomechanist at Indiana University. Dapena noted that South African Hestrie Cloete, who is favored to win the women's high jump during the Olympic Games in Athens, has poor form but can clear two meters. He said Cloete likely would jump even better if her form improved. She will face strong competition from Swede Kajsa Bergqvist and from Russian high jumpers, whom Dapena described as a dominant force. Dapena is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology in IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. He has been a biomechanics consultant to the U.S. Olympic Committee since 1982. As a biomechanics researcher, he looks for optimum technique. "There are ways you can move your body to squeeze more out of it," he said. As part of his work for the Olympic Committee, Dapena films U.S. high jumpers each summer at their main meet, or as is the case this year, at the U.S. Olympic team trials. He converts the film of the jumps, taken from two different angles, into three-dimensional computer images and numerous tables of data, providing the athletes and coaches with information, observations and suggestions geared toward improving the atheletes' jumps. The men's high jump world record is 2.45 meters. Dapena expects jumps at the Olympics to reach heights of only 2.36, however, because of the lengthy jumping schedule and because the men's performance has fallen off in recent years. The world record for female jumpers is 2.09 meters. Dapena said the women could get close, jumping as high as 2.05 or 2.06 meters. Most high jumpers' techniques look the same to a casual observer, but to biomechanics experts such as Dapena, even slight differences jump out. Dapena keeps his eyes open for "tricks" or slight variations that could be used by other jumpers. This happens only occasionally, though, the last time being in 1987, when he noticed a Swedish jumper keeping his knees very flexed at the peak of his jump. This helped him somersault backward faster, thus helping him clear the bar more efficiently. To speak with Dapena, contact him at 812-855-8407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.