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article imageSpeed skaters perform better at higher elevation

By Tim Sandle     Feb 14, 2014 in Science
Why have no world speed skating records been broken at Sochi? Speed skaters move so fast that air resistance is a major factor in each race. At the low, near-sea-level elevation of Sochi, air resistance is simply too high, according to a new study.
According to a review by Lab Roots, all world records in men's and women's traditional, long-track speed skating, from 500-meter sprints to 10,000-meter races taking more than 12 minutes, were set at tracks in cities more than 3,400 feet above sea level.
In terms of Olympic records, the majority were set 12 years ago, in Salt Lake City, Utah where the track sat 4,675 feet above sea level. The only Olympic record set in Sochi thus far came in the men's 5,000-meter, from the Netherlands' Sven Kramer, but his time was more than 7.4 seconds slower than his 2007 world-record-setting performance in Calgary, Alberta.
This altitude-speed link has been made by Robert Chapman, an exercise physiologist at Indiana University, in Bloomington. Talking to Scientific American, Chapman said: "It's a little counterintuitive because we usually think altitude slows people down, but in speed skating, it's the other way around."
Physics won't deter skaters from trying to set records. The U.S. speed skating team, for example, are wearing advanced suits from Under Armour, honed in hundreds of hours of wind tunnel tests.
More about Speed skating, Olympics, Speedskating, Sochi
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