Science May Be Our Real Secret to Grabbing Gold; Damian Bailey, Professor of Physiology and Biochemistry at the University of Glamorgan's Faculty of Health, Sport, and Science, Explains the Role of Research in Improving the Ability of Athletes
THIS summer sees the Olympic Games come to London, the first city to have hosted no fewer than three modern Olympiads. Athletes from more than 200 nations will put their mettle to the test, inspired by the Olympic motto of "Citius, Altius, Fortius" meaning "faster, higher, stronger."
The Games provide the perfect stage for world record attempts with steady improvements in how fast Olympians run, how high they jump and how far they throw objects, including themselves, through space. But will these improvements continue to be made? Perils of prediction: The battle between scientific prediction and athletic performance (brain versus brawn) has a long and rather embarrassing history, for the scientist that is.
No less than half a century ago, it was believed that man was "physiologically, biomechanically and indeed psychologically" incapable of breaking 10 seconds for the 100-metres sprint. Yet today, the Jamaican Usain Bolt stands tall (indeed he is the tallest sprinter ever) having run it in a staggering 9.58 seconds.
Such bold Olympic predictions were being made at a time when the British were the first to have climbed the world's highest peak, Mt Everest which stands 5.5 miles high, using supplemental oxygen; an Olympic feat in itself.
Backed up by laboratory-based experimentation, the scientific community simply couldn't help itself and felt confident with their next prediction announcing that an "oxygenless" ascent of Everest would be impossible and result in certain death due to the hypoxic extremes of high-altitude.
The gauntlet was laid down and true to historic form, the Austrians Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler stood jubilant on its summit in 1978, without even a whiff of supplemental oxygen to help them along the way.
Power of knowledge: Since the first undergraduate degree in exercise Sciences was launched in 1975, students from more than 40 universities in the UK including those based at the University of Glamorgan are actively using science to help push our next generation of athletes to run faster, jump higher and be stronger. The integrated study and combined application of physiology, biomechanics and psychology to modern coaching techniques has helped our athletes achieve unparalleled sporting success. With the emerging discipline of sports medicine adding the all-important "clinical component" helping keep an athlete healthy (and not just fit), our Olympians are now eating, training, recovering and performing far "smarter" than ever before. …