Stories tagged olympics

Can you beat me?: Think you can outrun a cheetah? Find out how fast they are.
Can you beat me?: Think you can outrun a cheetah? Find out how fast they are.Courtesy Sue Mainka / IUCN
So we're just three days into the 2012 London Olympics and the TV coverage is already predictable. A gymnast or two has cried, an Eastern Bloc athlete has been banned for testing positive for performance-enhancing substances and the guys playing water polo have extremely "ripped" bodies. So how about shaking things up and checking out this fun feature on the animal Olympics, and find out which species, according to the Olympic motto, go stronger, higher, faster.


Athletes like those who won medals at the recent Winter Olympics train intensely for their sport. When most of us think of training, we probably think only of physical exercise, but winning athletes also need to master the mental challenges of competition, which can be especially intense during the Olympic games. After all, the world is watching and nothing short of national pride is on the line.

Listen to the short sound pieces in this New York Times interactive graphic and you'll realize that the distance between winners and losers at the Olympic games is often less than an instant. Being mentally focused and prepared can make all the difference. To help them train, many athletes (including all of the US team) work with Sports Psychologists, mental health experts who help them to prepare for the distraction of crowds and the pressure of the moment. What does mental training involve? Athletes complete exercises in visualization, breathing, body control, and energy management to help them focus so they don't choke under pressure.

What about the mental implications of winning and losing? Psychologists (and economists!) who are interested in knowing more about what makes people happy have used the Olympic games as a kind of laboratory - looking at athletes who take first place and comparing them to those who don't.

As you might guess, winning a Gold medal feels pretty good, and athletes who take first seem to be pretty happy about it. But scientists found an unexpected result in their study on winning, losing, and happiness when they compared silver and bronze medalists - it seems that third place finishers are, on average, happier than those who come in second. Researchers learned this by watching interviews with Olympic athletes at the 1992 summer games and recording words and phrases that they used to describe how they were feeling. They also watched recordings of the facial expressions of the athletes on the podium, and concluded that while most Bronze medalists looked giddy, Silver medalists often seemed disappointed.

Why would you be happier with a third place title than second? Researchers point to a phenomenon called "counterfactual thinking" - in short, it means those in second place are plagued by thoughts of "what might have been" while bronze medalists are relieved that they placed at all. Second place finishers are thinking of the one tiny mistake that cost them first place, while third place finishers are relieved that they didn't make one mistake too many.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to Olympic athletes. We all compete in one sense or another, and have all probably dealt with moments of winning and losing, which is probably part of why we enjoy watching sports games.

Click here for more Buzz stories on science and the Winter Olympics.

John Shuster, the captain--or "skip"--of the U.S. Curling Team in Vancouver, explains this unusual sport, and NSF-funded scientists Sam Colbeck, a retired scientist from the U.S. Army Cold Regions Lab and physicist George Tuthill of Plymouth State University explain the friction that makes it all work.

Melissa Hines, the Director of the Cornell University Center for Materials Research, and Sam Colbeck, a retired scientist from the U.S. Army Cold Regions Lab, explain how innovations in boot and blade design help skaters perform better than ever before.

U.S. Ski Team members Julia Mancuso, Ted Ligety and Scott Macartney, and Katharine Flores, an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Ohio State University, explain how the materials used to make skis play a vital role in their performance on the mountain.

Paul Doherty, a senior scientist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco uses a skateboard and a glass of water to demonstrate snowboard physics.

Olympic hopeful Rachael Flatt, and Deborah King, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences at Ithaca College, to help explain the physics of figure skating.

Paul Doherty, senior scientist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, Deborah King, associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences at Ithaca College, physicist George Tuthill of Plymouth State University, and bobsled designer Bob Cuneo, the team explains how they hope to win the gold at the Winter olympics.

Speed skating is all about force and movement--what, in physics, are known as Newton's First Three Laws of Motion. Celski and physicist George Tuthill of Plymouth State University explain.

There has been much hype lately about the ethics of chromosomal testing during the Bejing Olympics. Rather than sending a man to compete as a woman (as the Germans did in the Berlin games),An ostrich going for the gold
An ostrich going for the goldCourtesy swh
they should have entered an ostrich or perhaps a rhino. Check out the link above to read about high performing animals that would give our athletes a run (or swim) for their money.