Sweating on Ice: Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s Historic Win for Team USA

With the 2018 Winter Olympics coming to a close, I thought it would be pertinent to discuss one of the most ground-breaking wins for team USA. Last week, the U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey team beat Canada 3-2 in a shootout for the gold medal. The U.S. Women’s team has only won gold once before, in 1998, so this is certainly a win that will go down in history. The team all put in a tremendous effort for the win, but Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, the player that scored the game-winning shot, has become somewhat of an American hero.

As the entire world watched on, Lamoureux Davidson was faced with one of the most high-stakes games of her life. It was all up to her. Now, I don’t know about you, but I get stressed out for something as small as a class presentation or final exam. Her (and the rest of the team’s) ability to work through and cope with extreme stress is truly remarkable. I know for a fact that if I were in that same position, I would certainly crumble.

Figure 1. Jocelyne Amoureux-Davidson playing for Team USA in 2017

Perhaps one of the most profound differences between elite athletes and everyday people is the ability to manage stress, both long and short-term. Most people would recognize the concept of “fight or flight,” that describes the body’s physiological response to stressful situations, or “threats.” This response originally served as a survival mechanism, protecting early humans from life-threatening risks like animal attacks, but people may experience the same stress response to family issues, work, or in this case, hockey shootouts.

The physiological responses to stress are dictated by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Perceived threats prompt the sympathetic nervous system to release a cascade of several different hormones and eventually cortisol, a steroid hormone, that keeps the body on high alert. It gives the body an extra burst of energy that can allow the person to either combat the threat (fight) or run away (flight). When the coast is clear, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated to dampen the effects of the hormones.

While it is interesting to study the short term effects of cortisol, some of its most intriguing effects occur in the long-term. Because athletes are constantly faced with high-stress situations, they may experience the effects of chronic stress, including anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and weakened immune system. After years of training and competing, athletes often experience “burnout,” which has the potential to end their high-stress career. In a study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise in 2016, investigators examined the key factors that contributed to the stress-burnout relationship. It was found that both athlete resilience and coach social support played a crucial role in the moderation of stress and maintenance of psychological health.

After a win, many athletes will take the time to thank their friends, family, and coaches. This may just seem like a nice gesture, but it is scientifically supported that their support can contribute to the athlete’s success. In such a high-stress environment, it is imperative that athletes have access to a support system to help cope with the constant flow of cortisol. Lamoureux Davidson’s coach must be proud.

Further Reading – Works Cited

  1. “U.S. Women Golden at 2018 Olympics” (2018) by USA Hockey, http://teamusa.usahockey.com/news_article/show/889602?referrer_id=695820
  2. Figure 1. Attribution: BDZ Sports [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  3. “Understanding the Stress Response” (2011), https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
  4. “Understanding Chronic Stress” (2018), http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-chronic-stress.aspx
  5. F.J.H Lu, et. al. “Interaction of athletes’ resilience and coaches social support on the stress-burnout relationship: a conjunctive moderation perspective” Psychology of Sport and Exercise (2016) Vol. 22, pp. 202-209

“Eleven Wretched Women”

The media often puts their own spin on the news in order to make a statement or point of some sort. After reading Chapter 5 of David Epstein’s The Sports Gene, it is apparent that this can be traced back all the way to the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam (Epstein, 59-60). After the women’s 800m run in 1928, John Tunis of the New York Evening Post reported, “Below us on the cinder path were 11 wretched women, 5 of whom dropped out before the finish, while 5 collapsed after reaching the tape.” This reporting caused the International Olympic Committee to keep the 800m off the program until 1960. It was interesting that a simple news article was able to create this kind of power and able to change the Olympic Games.

I researched more about this specific race and came across this article (here), which reported the actual facts of that race. Roger Robinson, a senior writer for The Running Times, describes the race in detail, noting that there were actually only 9 runners in the race, as opposed to the 11 originally reported. Only one of them fell, and not from exhaustion, but instead because she was leaning forward to try to lean forward to beat her competitor. A photo of the winner was captured, Germany’s Lina (Karoline) Radke-Batschauer, in which she shows no signs of exhaustion.   According to Robinson, not only was this race false reported in the New York Evening Post, but in other newspapers as well. For example, newspapers said that women’s reproductive capability impaired by such “terrible exhaustion.” England’s Daily Mail affirmed that women who raced longer than 200m would age prematurely.

The fact that these reports were able to convince the IOC that the women’s 800m should no longer be a part of the Olympic Games shows what kind of influence the media has on our culture. It banned the 800m for over 30 years, simply because these reporters thought that women couldn’t handle such a race. Even in 1967, when the first woman ran in the Boston Marathon, she received a lot of criticism and disbelief, with people saying that there was slim to no chance that she would be able to win (read more about her experience here). It is shocking that people’s opinions can influence the rules of sporting event so drastically. Today, with social media, this problem is even more prevalent than before. Opinions are publicized from many different parties, not only confusing people, but sometimes distributing incorrect information. When discussing the issue of nature versus nurture when it comes to athleticism, it is important to consider how the media has influenced opinions in the past and present, as it can cause some serious misconceptions.

Works Cited:

Epstein, David J. The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. 2014.

Robinson, Roger. “‘Eleven Wretched Women.’” Runner’s World, 16 May 2017, www.runnersworld.com/running-times-info/eleven-wretched-women.

Switzer, Kathrine. “Boston, 1967: When Marathons Were Just for Men.” BBC News, 16 Apr. 2012, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17632029.

How Uniforms Influence Speed Skating Performance

With the Winter 2018 Olympics in full swing, it is easy to get caught up analyzing an athlete’s performance, from the routine to the costume. Of course costumes are meant to attract all of attention to the individual wearing them, but could there possibly be another, more scientific, reason for wearing these eye catching get-ups? The Washington Post recently put out an article that goes to answer this question. “In the Olympics, what athletes wear is often more about science than style,” by Rachel Feltman, explores the motivation behind uniforms worn by speed skaters.

This article looks at various factors related to costuming which may play into how a speed skater performs during a race. Comfort and personal preference of one color over another were two aspects of the costume that played a role in an individual’s performance. If the skater was comfortable and believed that they would shave a few seconds off their time in a blue suit rather than a red suit, time would actually improve. This points back to the belief that the mind has the ability to elevate an athlete’s skills or performance based on how they think they should be operating.

There is more to speed skating though than just the color of the costume, skill of the athlete, and comfort of the suit. As the individual skates across the ice, they are experiencing a considerable drag from the air. While air does not create as great of a drag force on speed skaters as water creates on swimmers, it could be the deciding factor between which athlete receives gold and silver due to the milliseconds this force costs the athletes. For this reason, countries have invested time and money into researching a uniform that would not only be stylish and comfortable, but also aerodynamic. In 2014 Under Armour began to research the best possible combination, trying out over 250 combination of fabric. The final costume worked to make the skater as sleek as possible to reduce drag, used fabrics that would not create frictional forces as the skater’s thighs rubbed together, and was dotted with tiny bumps to allows the skater to fly across the ice, similar to how a golf ball speeds through the air.

This article relates directly back to the topics covered in this course because it looks at how engineering principles influence the sports world. It looks at topics such as reducing friction, making the athletes more aerodynamic, and showcases how much time and energy goes into creating these products.

It is interesting to see how costumes influence an athlete, and begs the question as to whether or not there are other facets of uniform design which would be optimized to increase performance. Aerodynamics and friction have both been explored in this article, but could there be others as well?

Works Cited:

Feltman, R. (2018, January 21). In the Olympics, what athletes wear is often more about science than style. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/kidspost/in-the-olympics-what-athletes-wear-is-often-more-about-science-than-style/2018/01/19/67626414-f6ce-11e7-a9e3-ab18ce41436a_story.html?utm_term=.a1979b18e25b