Posted by: Andrew | February 24, 2010

“C’est pour toi, Maman.”

A stunning performance by Joannie Rochette last night in the figure skating, to put her in bronze medal position. After the sudden, tragic death of her mother on Sunday, the Canadian skater put on a remarkable and emotive display of skating in front of a hugely supportive crowd. Let’s hope she can hang on to the medal spot tonight.

Posted by: Andrew | February 23, 2010

Gold Medal for Canada

A gold for Canada tonight in the Ice Dance. The Canadian pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were brilliant last night and just as good tonight. It was also good to see them singing the National Anthem very enthusiastically too. Naturally the home crowd went bananas! I haven’t seen such good Ice dancing since Torville and Dean.

Posted by: Andrew | February 22, 2010

An Echo of England v Poland 1973

So Team Canada ( the men) lost their (ice) hockey match against the USA yesterday, despite an overwhelming advantage in possession, shots on goal and a much more experienced team. It is difficult for non-Canadians to understand the degree of national tragedy that this inflicts; for the English it is like losing a football (soccer) match to Germany (to the Scots probably like losing a soccer match to the English!).

Actually the game it reminded me of was the England v Poland match in the 1973 World Cup Qualifiers. England had had a poor set of results in the series and needed to win to qualify. The match was at home. The England team was highly formidable. They pressed home their attack relentlessly. The Polish goalkeeper, Jan Tomaszewski played a brilliant match and stopped practically everything. The final result was a 1-1 draw, England were eliminated and did not appear in the World Cup again for many years.

I do hope that the Canadian team can snap out of it. After all, do we really want the Russians or the Americans winning an Olympic gold medal for hockey on Canadian territory? I think not.

Posted by: Andrew | February 21, 2010

It’s news Jacques, but not as we know it

I was looking on the BBC website this morning and saw there was a video clip of the IOC president reflecting on lessons learned in Vancouver:

“IOC president Jacques Rogge reflects on the first few days of Vancouver 2010, and gives his thoughts on what lessons London can learn ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

Available to UK users only”

I have fallen victim to the IOC media rules which mean I can’t watch “Olympic related” material by the BBC unless I am in the UK (or at least have a UK IP address, which could be spoofed using a proxy server rather easily; a method of questionable legality).

Now I can see the rationale in protecting coverage of the events themselves, but surely an interview by the top Olympic official is of sufficient importance to be made publicly available?

Posted by: Andrew | February 21, 2010

Buy the Podium

“Buy the Podium” is a little joke between Light of My Life and myself, and just means going grocery shopping.

The Canadians, tired of finishing fourth in lots of sports, decided to target specific sports and fund them well. Most of the other nations who want to win Olympic medals do the same. Usually, however, they don’t choose a name like “Own the Podium”, but call it something a little more innocuous. The problem with “Own the Podium” isn’t in the aspiration or the method of building up successful teams and athletes, it’s the name!

Headline in the Star Phoenix “groan the podium”; one of the BBC commentators “Moan the Podium” (after the Canadian complaint about Amy Williams winning Gold in the Skeleton). The other problem is what do you do if the program fails to deliver? Change it to “Lease the podium on a temporary basis”?
The strategy looks like it will not achieve the objective of more medals than any other nation, mostly because the US have performed much better here than many other nations and so have proportionally far more medals than they got in Turin. However, the program might well give a greater medal total to Canada than in previous games, which, for a small population base, would be good.

The British approach has actually been very similar to the Canadians. As we don’t have the climate for most of the sports, we’ve concentrated most resources in areas where we might stand a chance. This means curling and bobsledding. The curling does not look good right now, as the men lost to Canada in a close match yesterday, and need to win all their remaing matches to qualify. The gold medal in skeleton is a direct result of resourcing promising athletes with a good support staff, training and technology. We don’t even have a bobsled track in the UK!

Posted by: Andrew | February 20, 2010

Gold Medal for Britain

Gold for Britain! Congratulations to Amy Williams on victory in the skeleton bob. She set a course record too.

Unfortunately, Melissa Hollingworth, from Canada who was in silver medal place after three runs, had a bad final run and ended up out of the medals. A British-Canadian one-two would have been perfect.

Of course, I missed the action because I was putting number two son to bed. He had acting tired all day, but refused to put his head down on the pillow, and kept popping up shouting “Sleepy Time!”.

A very entertaining set of postings by Ollie Williams the BBC commentator

“Matt in Bath texts: “The University of Bath has had a skeleton track for years. It’s Shelley Rudman’s training ground.”

Have you seen that track? It’s like calling a kebab van in Bakewell a shopping centre. It’s barely any length at all and has no ice, which is traditionally considered a component of a skeleton track. Good for getting your starts right and not a lot else (hence Britain’s sliders train abroad much of the time).”

The skeleton track was built since I left the University of Bath, and as a native of Bakewell, in Derbyshire, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a kebab van in the town. Maybe on market day, or at the Agricultural Show…

Posted by: Andrew | February 19, 2010

Vancouver Olympic Medals

We were just watching the medal ceremony for Christine Nesbitt, getting a gold medal for Canada in the 1000 metre speed skating.  The design of the medals is very original and I really like it.  A quick bit of internet searching reveals that they are made with metal from recycled computer circuit boards, and are all laser etched with a unique design, so that each medal is different.

Olympic Medals

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Medals

I watched the actual race with both number one and number two sons.  It has to be said that N2S had a limited attention span, but he liked the different coloured racing suits that the athletes were wearing. The Silver and Bronze medalists hail from the Netherlands, and it was fun to see the Dutch fans in the stadium having a good time (all dressed in orange).  Speed skating is very popular over there. The home crowd went bananas when Christine Nesbitt won.  A great sporting spectacle.

A very minor point of etiquette – the Canadians aren’t removing their hats (toques)  for the National Anthem. Apparently only members of the armed forces are supposed to keep their hats on when it is played. I wonder if the British press have noticed this yet….

While doing the internet research, I also noticed that Sebastian Coe (Chair London Olympic Organizing Committee) has written a short piece in the Vancouver Sun, praising the games in Vancouver.  He’s probably embarrassed by all that negativity from the British press too.

My posting about the physics of luge safety has also appeared (without my permission) on another website.  You read it here first!

At least they left my copyright notice in.   Nobody is paying any attention to it. Sigh.

Posted by: Andrew | February 18, 2010

British Press Still Grumpy

The British press coverage of the Winter Olympics has been getting grumpier. The Guardian in particular seems to be very down on Vancouver and the organizing committee. The Times is coming in second, with the tabloids stirring the pot too.

Here are a few comments

1 The Luge track was approved by the FIL, they are responsible for any design faults.
2 The judging is done by international referees, not by the local organizing committee.
3 Control of the weather is not possible.

Okay, fencing off the Olympic Flame was a bit of a no no, but that has been fixed.
The hydraulics on the flame holder didn’t work for all four arms. Embarrassing, but hardly serious.
They had a problem with a Zamboni on the ice. It happens.
They didn’t have enough French in the opening ceremony. A prickly point in Canada. I can see the problem in Vancouver, Chinese speakers are easier to find than Francophones; a bit more effort would have been appreciated by Francophone Canadians, who are providing a lot of the medalists for the home team!

I’m hugely embarrassed by the negativity of the British press. The organizers are obviously trying hard and fixing glitches as best they can. The only thing that I can say is that they will be even more ferocious in their criticism in 2012, when we can expect an orgy of national self-loathing and schadenfreude when something goes wrong in London, which is quite likely. So, Canadians, please ignore the British press, the British often do.

The BBC Olympic blog has a much more balanced viewpoint, written by the man who will be running their operation in 2012 in London. Mind you, the BBC coverage was also criticized in the UK press.

Cool technology note: I’m writing this on my iPod, while trying to get number two son back to sleep.

Uncool technology note: I can’t paste a URL into the dialog box which pops up when I want to put a link in. I’ll have to make the BBC URL into a link when I use my laptop. It’s an Apple bug, not a WordPress bug apparently.

Posted by: Andrew | February 16, 2010

So which team am I supporting at the Olympics?

Number one son is really rooting for the Canadian teams.  He was spotted singing “Oh Canada” again this morning, while watching a curling match (Canada vs Norway).  One of my friends asked me where my allegiances lay these days.  Now I have to admit, that although I have been a long term resident of Canada, have a Canadian wife and children who could be dual citizens, I would probably still root for the British team.  In the winter olympics, it’s not too serious.  Britain is not known for winter sports excellence, with some notable exceptions in the past in ice skating and curling.   In this Olympics, the medal prospects for the British are actually quite good, the Women’s Skeleton Bobsleigh Pair are very good, and so is the Men’s Curling Team.  The latter is the most likely to cause a clash of loyalties at home – both GB and Canada have a good chance at the Gold medal!  The last few times they met, the GB team (which is really the Scotland team!) has beaten the Canadians.  But this is the Olympics and there is the home advantage…

I should add that, if there is no British competitor, then I will always support the Canadian athlete!

The British press have been rather rude about the “Own the Podium” programme, designed to maximize the number of medals that Team Canada wins.  I admit that the title is rather tactless.  However virtually every other nation has a similar program, but is not quite so “In your face” with the name.  It’s actually very untypical for the Canadians…   Do remember that the British press will be merciless with any shortcomings found in the Britiah Summer Olympic Preparations  in 2012. Ignoring most of the British press is probably a good idea, come to think about it.

During practice on the Luge run at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, the Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili was tragically killed when he apparently lost control on curve 16 of the run, slid off the track and collided with a steel support pillar. The author would like to offer his sincere condolences to his family, friends, and fellow athletes.

The official line, after a hasty investigation, was that the athlete was responsible, and that the track design was not at fault.  I am a little sceptical of having the officiating body (the Fédération Internationale de Luge de Course, FIL), conduct an investigation; for instance, when an airliner crashes, it is not the airline that conducts the official investigation. The course was designed according to FIL guidelines, so is the investigation going to be truly impartial? They are being asked to investigate their own guidelines! The investigation by the Coroner in British Columbia will hopefully be thorough and conclusive.

Nevertheless, the competition for the men was allowed to run, but using the starting position for the women’s competition, further down the track, to reduce the speed of the racers. Similarly, the women’s event will be run from an even lower starting point. Changes were also made to the ice profile on the run.  This strongly suggests to me that this is a de facto admission that the design of the run could be changed to help prevent the accident. The design should include the possibility that an athlete might make a mistake. The consequences of that mistake should not be fatal.

Now, I personally think that the press release blaming the athlete was grossly insensitive at best, and avoiding the issue in hand at worst.  Luge is a dangerous sport which is run in an entirely artificial environment.  The luge run is a man-made construct, not a natural artefact. The designers and engineers responsible for the run should have allowed for the possibility of human error and the possibility of a rider being ejected from the run at high speed.  Modern training methods and new advanced materials have also produced stronger athletes and more slippery luges, which makes the speeds down the runs faster than they used to be.  It appears that the sport has not kept pace with this increase in performance, with a commensurate increase in safety precautions.  As Ladkin [1] has commented,” It doesn’t seem to me that organised sports activities of this nature apply similar standards of safety engineering as in aviation or nuclear power. Why not? ”  A very good question.

Let’s apply a little physics [2] to see what could be done to prevent such a tragedy.

We start with Newton’s second law of motion, stated in its original form: “the force applied to an object to change its motion is proportional to the rate of change of momentum.”  The momentum of an object is, in classical physics, the mass multiplied by the velocity.  The velocity is a vector quantity, with both magnitude (the speed) and a specified direction [3].  This bit of physics is often stated as the “Momentum-Impulse Theorem” in physics textbooks.

The equation below shows the momentum-impulse theorem for an object of mass m, moving initially at speed v and finally at vfinal.  If the time for the change in velocity is t, then the average force which has to be applied to the object to do this is F.

Momentum Impuse Theorem

In the case of an object in a collision, the final velocity is zero, because the object comes to a complete halt after collision. The second line in the equation accounts for this, and rearranges the equation in terms of the average force applied [4].  Thus someone flying through the air with an initial speed of v will experience an average force F, when colliding with a fixed object and coming to a complete halt.  The time t is the collision time taken to bring the person to a halt from that speed, not the total time spent in the air.

If you are used to visualizing consequences of algebraic expressions, you can see that increasing the collision time, t, (i.e. increasing the time taken for the athlete to stop) decreases the average force.  The same thing can be shown by putting a few numbers into the equations. Suppose the mass of the person is 60 kg, and the initial speed is 145 km/h (40 m/s, about 90 mph). If the collision time is 0.010 seconds (10 milliseconds), then the average force exerted during the collision is 240,000 newtons [5].  If the collision time is increased to 100 milliseconds, the average force is reduced by a factor of 10, to 24,000 newtons. A slower collision can occur if there is some padding or cushioning between the moving and stationary objects. This is exactly what the airbag in your car does in the event of a collision. It should be stressed that the average force is less than the maximum instantaneous force, so that you need to allow an extra safety margin. It is also desirable to make sure that the force is distributed over a wide area of the human body, and not applied to highly localized parts, especially the head.

The survivability of high impact collisions is not an exact science, but many semi-quantitative approximations can be used to determine if a collision will be survivable or not [6]. Reducing the magnitude of acceleration (v/t) below 1750-2000 m/s2 is essential for survivability, possibly with severe injury.

In this case, if we assume an initial speed of 145 km/h (40 m/s), then to get below 1750 m/s2 acceleration, we would need to have a collision time of greater than 0.023 seconds (23 milliseconds).  Ideally we would like a collision time several times greater than that, to try and prevent serious injury as well.

Now consider some possible safety measures that could be taken:

1                     Change the design and shape of the existing luge runs. This could be expensive.

2                     Change the rules on luge/sled construction to make the luge slower by increasing the friction force on it as it goes down the run.  This would be analogous to the redesign of the javelin in the athletics competition.  Athlete performance had increased so dramatically that with the old style javelin, they were in danger of throwing it into the crowd.  The solution was to change the aerodynamic characteristics of the javelin so that it just couldn’t fly as far.

3                     Apply passive safety measures to the zone around the luge run.  Options which might be feasible include enclosing the run with a transparent top to prevent the rider being thrown off, and padding or webbing around the fixed structural supports. At Whistler, the steel support girders were not protected at all. This would be the simplest option.

4                     Apply active safety measures such as air bags around the luge run which are only activated when an athlete comes off the track.  This might be technically demanding, as they would have to deploy very rapidly, and only deploy where they were needed.  On the other hand, these could presumably be retrofitted to the existing runs, a much less expensive option than rebuilding the entire run. Airbag technology in cars is a mature technology and can deploy airbags into their operating positions 60-80 milliseconds after the start of a crash. With this level of performance, an athlete flying through the air at 40 m/s would travel about 3 metres while the airbag was deploying.  This might not be adequate, but a faster operating system could certainly be developed. One could imagine having sensors attached to the athlete or the luge itself, which would send an emergency signal to the safety system in the event of the athlete being thrown off the track.  Some form of position monitoring would then allow the appropriate sections of the active safety system to deploy.  It would also be possible to put the sensors in the luge run itself.  However access to the sensors (under the ice) would be more limited and difficult.

A little imagination and a lot of technical effort and money would be required to implement these safety measures. But what price is a human life?

[1] accessed 14th Feb 2010

[2] I have deliberately kept this analysis to the level of first year university or college level in the US/Canada or A-level Physics in the UK.  Much more sophisticated analysis is possible, but doesn’t add much to the conclusions.

[3] In physics the terms velocity and speed have distinct meanings. Velocity is a vector quantity and has magnitude and direction. Speed is a scalar quantity and has magnitude only.

[4] The negative sign indicates that the direction of the applied force is in the opposite direction to the initial velocity.  The magnitude of the force is indicated by the symbol |F|.

[5] The newton is the unit of force in the metric system.  You exert a force of approximately 1 newton when you push a button to ring a doorbell.

[6] “Physics of the human body”, Irving P. Herman, Springer; Corr. 3rd printing edition (Jan 9 2007), ISBN-13: 978-3540296034, page 159

Copyright Andrew Robinson February 15th 2010.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »