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William A. Sands, Cindy Slater, Jeni R. McNeal, Steven Ross Murray and Michael H. Stone

The lay press, scientists, and physicians appear to believe that gymnasts are continually getting smaller and that their “smallness” is a health risk.

Purpose:

To assess the historical changes in the size and age of the US women’s Olympic gymnastics teams from 1956 to 2008.

Methods:

The official records from the US Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics of Olympic team members were assessed at 2 levels: individual height, mass, age, and body-mass index (BMI) and the team performance scores and rankings. Fourteen Olympic teams with a total of 106 team members, including the alternates, were included. Trend analyses were conducted using linear and polynomial models.

Results:

Simple linear correlations indicated that since 1956, height, mass, age, BMI, and team Olympic rank have been declining. However, second-order polynomial curve fits indicated that in the last 4 Olympic Games the members of the US women’s gymnastics teams have been getting larger.

Conclusion:

Women Olympic gymnasts were getting smaller through approximately the 1980s and early 1990s. Since then the size of these gymnasts has increased. The minimum-age rule modifications may have played a role in athlete size changes along with a shift from the near dominance of the former communist Eastern Bloc.

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Naoki Kikuchi, Dai Ueda, Seok-ki Min, Koichi Nakazato and Shoji Igawa

Purpose:

To examine the relationship between ACTN3 polymorphisms and level of athletic performance in Japanese wrestlers.

Methods:

The control group consisted of 243 healthy Japanese individuals. The authors divided 135 wrestlers into 3 groups based on their results in national or international competitions. They classified as elite 24 wrestlers who had placed in the top 8 in a world championship or participated in Olympic games, 28 wrestlers who had participated in world championships or become champions in Japan’s national championships were classified as subelite, and 83 wrestlers were classified as national (N-W, ie, national-level wrestler). In addition, the authors combined the elite and subelite to form the classification international-level wrestlers (I-W).

Results:

The frequency of the null X allele and the XX genotype were significantly lower in the I-W group than in the control group. However, there was no significant difference in ACTN3 genotype or allele frequency between the N-W and control groups. The frequency of the ACTN3 XX genotype in the elite groups was lower than that of all groups, and a linear tendency was observed between ACTN3 XX genotype and athletic status.

Conclusions:

In conclusion, the data indicated that ACTN3 polymorphisms were related to athletic performance in Japanese wrestlers.

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Stephen Seiler

An Olympic Games is a measurable test of a nation´s sporting power. Medal counts are the object of intense scrutiny after every Olympiad. Most countries celebrate any medal with national glee, since 60% of competing countries will win none. In 2012, 10% of the competing countries won 75% of all medals. Despite this concentration among a few countries, more countries are winning more medals now than 20 years ago, thanks in part to athlete-support and -development programs arising around the globe. Small strong sporting countries like Norway are typified by fairly large variation in medal results from Olympiad to Olympiad and a high concentration of results in a few sports. These are important factors to consider when evaluating national performance and interpreting the medal count. Medal conversion, podium placements relative to top 8 placements, may provide a measure of the competitiveness of athlete-support programs in this international zero sum game where the cost of winning Olympic gold keeps rising whether measured in dollars or human capital.

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Stephen Seiler

Almost half of the record 98 events being held at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games were either not held 20 years ago at Lillehammer or have been substantially modified. The Olympics as a global sports event are not stationary but must adapt and evolve in response to changing demands, just as the remarkable athletes who are competing do. While the Winter Olympics program has steadily grown since Chamonix in 1924, the rate of development has greatly accelerated in the last 20 years. Three factors seem to be instrumental. First, the Winter Olympics program has become more gender balanced. Female hockey teams are battling for gold, and this year women will compete in ski jumping for the first time. Most Winter Olympics sports have equal numbers of events for men and women today, although female participation still lags somewhat behind. Second, many traditional events have been modified by sport-governing bodies toward a more “TV friendly” format. Time-trial starts have been replaced by mass or group starts. “Sprint” and team events have been added to spice up traditional sports like cross-country skiing and speed skating. Finally “extreme” sports like half-pipe and ski-cross have crossed over from the X Games to the Olympics, with some arguing that the Olympics need these popular sports more than the X Games sports need the Olympics. All of these changes create new research questions for sport scientists who are also willing to adapt and evolve.

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Jaakko Kaprio and Seppo Sarna

Occupational disability was investigated in former Finnish athletes in the Olympic Games, World or European championships, or intercountry competitions during 1920–1965 (N = 2,402 men) for eight selected sports. The referents were 1,712 men selected from the Finnish conscription register, matched on age and area of residence and classified as completely healthy. The first outcome measure was the length of working life based on the age when the subject was granted a disability pension, or age at death before age 65. The Kaplan-Meier estimate of mean working life expectancy was 61.4 years for endurance sport athletes, 60.0 years for team games athletes, and 59.2 years for power sport competitors, compared with 57.6 years for the reference group. Decreased coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular and respiratory morbidity were observed for all athletes when compared with the referent group. It was concluded that sustained and vigorous physical activity during early adulthood may extend the occupationally active life span and defer the onset of disability before retirement age.

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Robert J. Gregor, William C. Whiting and Raymond W. McCoy

The purpose of this investigation was to record the performance of all male and female competitors in the discus throw during the 1984 Olympic Games. The final rounds of the men's and women's discus throw were filmed at 120 fps using two high-speed 16mm LoCam cameras. Height, angle, and velocity of the discus and the thrower's trunk angle were measured at release in the best three throws of the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medalists in both the men's and women's division. Little difference was observed between men and women regarding the angle and velocity of release, and results were comparable with those from previous studies on elite performers. But differences were observed in foot position at release and height of release between men and women. It appeared the men had more vertical thrust in taking them off the ground prior to release and, even relative to their greater body height, released the discus with a higher arm position. The three-dimensional nature of this event precludes any further interpretation at this time.

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John Garhammer

The heaviest successful snatch and clean and jerk for five Gold medalists in weight-lifting at the 1984 Olympic Games were analyzed from 16mm film. Bar trajectories all showed that as the barbell was lifted from the platform it moved toward the athlete during the first pull, then away from the athlete and finally toward him again as it began to descend during the catch phase. Bar velocity profiles showed that most lifters decelerated the barbell at the end of the first pull while reorienting their body position for the second pull. Calculated power outputs were large in magnitude and showed considerable similarities for selected phases of the lifts of a given athlete. Power output values for complete snatch and clean pulls typically ranged between 28 and 35 W/Kg of body mass. Higher values were found for subphases of the pulls and for the jerk thrusts. Previously published data on one of the Gold medalists permitted longitudinal comparisons of his lifting technique. High power output capacity was the most distinguishing characteristic of the athletes studied and is likely necessary for successful participation in weightlifting at the elite level.

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Paavo V. Komi and Antti Mero

A two-dimensional film analysis was performed on five men and six women finalists in the javelin throw of the Los Angeles Olympic Games of 1984. In addition to the great interindividual variation in the measured kinematic and kinetic parameters, the results indicated that in men the winner had the highest release velocity of javelin (29.12 m × s−1), and that a significant (p < .01) relationship could be obtained between the release velocity and throwing distance. Despite great variation in throwing distance in women (55.88 m - 69.56 m) the release velocities were in relatively small range (20.73 m × s−1 - 23.62 m × s−1). High impact loading was specific to the last foot contact on the ground. It was characterized by a short duration (0.032 s) and high velocity knee flexion (12.66 ± 2.11 and 12.27 ± 3.81 rad × s−1, respectively, for men and women). The respective knee extension velocities averaged 5.80 ± 2.00 and 7.60 + 5.17 rad × s−1. Despite the fact that a small number of analyzed world-class throws revealed only some biomechanical differences between good and poorer performance, the results can be used to identify some new criteria for successful performance in javelin throw.

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Ralph Mann and John Herman

Selected kinematic variables in the performance of the Gold and Silver medalists and the eighth-place finisher in the women's 100-meter hurdles final at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games were investigated. Cinematographic records were obtained for all track hurdling events at the Games, with the 100-meter hurdle performers singled out for initial analysis. In this race, sagittal view filming records (100 fps) were collected at the 9th hurdle of the performance. Computer generated analysis variables included both direct performance variables (body velocity, support time, etc.) and body kinematics (upper leg position, lower leg velocity, etc.) that have previously been utilized in the analysis of elite athlete hurdlers. The difference in place finish was related to the performance variables body horizontal velocity (direct), vertical velocity (indirect), and support time (indirect). The critical body kinematics variables related to success included upper and lower leg velocity during support into and off the hurdle (direct), relative horizontal foot position (to the body) at touchdown into and off the hurdle (indirect), and relative horizontal foot velocity (to the body) at touchdown into the hurdle.

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James G. Hay and John A. Miller Jr.

The purposes of this study were (a) to describe the techniques used by elite triple jumpers and (b) to determine which characteristics were significantly related to the officially recorded distance of the jump. The subjects were the 12 finalists in the Triple Jump at the 1984 Olympic Games. Two motion-picture cameras placed with their optical axes at right angles to the runway were used to record the performances of the subjects. Means and standard deviations of the variables identified in a theoretical model and correlations between these variables and the distance of the jump were computed. Correlation of the distances achieved in each of the phases with the official distance of the jump suggested that, although the hop and jump phases made greater percentage contributions to the official distance than did the step phase, they accounted for only small amounts of the variance in that distance. Significant correlations of other independent variables with the distance of the jump suggested that the more the athlete's resources are expended prior to the jump phase and the more vertical his effort at takeoff into the jump, the better is the final result.