When you think of a basketball player, you imagine them to be very tall. When you think of a jockey, you imagine them to be very short. Runners have long legs; ballerinas have slender frames; football defensive linemen are simply massive human beings. However, what if your athletic passion and your body type don’t match? Fortunately, these days, athletes are finding ways to transform body type disadvantages into advantages.
In the Olympics, much a fuss has been made about advances in helmets, suits, and equipment. The invention of the shark-skin inspired swimsuits was followed by a massive wave of broken world records, which resulted in a ban of these high-tech swimsuits from major competitions. On the other hand, just recently, the redesign of the U.S. speed skaters’ suits seems to be hindering more than helping, which is no doubt disappointing to both the athletes and engineers.
Another new trend is the hiring of sports science and medicine professionals. With their expertise, they can analyze an athlete’s performance and provide specific advice based on physics. In U.S. figure skating, sports science professionals use reflective tape and slow motion video to watch a performance frame by frame to catch when an arm is too high or an angle is not right. They also advise how to train in order to minimize injuries, and for young skaters, when to use a harness and trampoline to learn new jumps and how old a skater must be before attempting certain jumps. It’s in a greater understanding of physics and how to train a skater’s body that makes it possible for certain variables in body type that were once considered to be disadvantages.
In ski jumping, where athletes easily reach 90 mph and fly for 100 meters, having a higher body weight gives them more momentum. So, for the women at Sochi, some of whom only weigh 100 pounds, this means they cannot go quite as fast or fly as far. However, they can maintain excellent control, which again turns that disadvantage into an advantage.
Bode Miller, one of the older and more tested skiers in the circuit, is now skiing at a weight that is about 20 pounds lighter than previous seasons. By weighing less, he can be more nimble and go faster; however, having less muscle bulk could mean sacrificing a certain amount of extra control. But for Bode Miller and his preferred style of skiing, a little less control doesn’t phase him one bit, as long as he can keep getting faster.
So, if you (or even your child) is considered to be too short, too tall, too big, or too small, just remember: where there’s a will, there’s a way.
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