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Where physics meets sport

David Schorah

By James Dacey

At its best, athletics is about sporting dramas. When leading athletes push their bodies to the limits it can create national heroes and inspire new generations of sports enthusiasts. But behind the stellar sporting performances there is also a lively arena of fascinating science and technology. In a new series of videos for Physics World we will take you on a scientific tour of three of the most fundamental and iconic sports: running, cycling and swimming. This week I travelled with a film crew to the north of England to visit the Centre for Sports Engineering Research (CSER), which is part of Sheffield Hallam University. It proved to be a fascinating experience.

One of the things we filmed was a physiology test with the British athlete David Schorah (above) who will be competing in the European student orienteering championships in Alicante, Spain, at the start of July. In this image you can see how Schorah’s blood-lactate levels are being monitored by researcher Alan Ruddock (left) as the athlete runs at progressively faster speeds. It was part of a series of tests to gauge Schorah’s base fitness level to help in the design of a short-term heat-acclimation training programme.

The Physics World videos will also look at some of the other areas of science involving sport. We cover the work of the designers and engineers who create new sports equipment to enable and enhance athletes. One of these people based at the CSER is Steve Haake (image right, right), who trained as a physicist before focusing his attention on sports engineering. Back in 2000 Steve wrote this popular article for Physics World about sports technologies and the roles they play in performance, and he is writing again on this theme for the July issue of Physics World.

Being a keen sportsman himself, as well as a sharp scientist, Haake appears to have landed his ideal job at the CSER. So to put his mental and physical capacities to the test we whisked him off to Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium and I interviewed him about the science of running as we jogged several laps around the track. Still in his jumper and trousers, Haake barely broke sweat.

You will be able to see this interview as part of this sports video series when it appears on in the coming weeks.

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