Torino #2: Preparation for the trip

Newsletter #2, Jan 15, 2006: Prep for the Trip - Travels and travails: I finally committed to buying the flight tickets for my family and my wife's friend and daughters. They have a pretty good schedule - Madison - Chicago - Brussels - Torino. About 15 hours each way with 2 short layovers. A 5 year old, 4 year old, and a 7 month old - looks to be challenging : ).  I'm still looking for housing. So far I've found a 3 star motel 32 miles away for $250/night - per person (!), and a one bedroom apartment in the city for $300/day. The USA hockey coach is willing to sublet his apartment for $130/day during the period, but a friend of mine has dibs already. If his girlfriend doesn't go, then we'll take that option - only 4 blocks from the arena. 

UPDATE: U.S. Olympic short track team selection is final Here's a picture of the team: from left to right - Men: Apolo Ohno, Alex Izykowski, Anthony Lobello, J.P. Kepka, Rusty Smith.  Ladies:  Allison Baver, Kimberly Derrick, Hyo-Jung Kim, Caroline Hallisey, Maria GarciaSide note - Apolo and Allison are an "item" (sorry ladies) 

The Media Crew: NBC recently issued a press release regarding the "talent" supporting the broadcast - unfortunately as a researcher/analyst, I don't officially qualify as "talent". Here's your crew though 

Short Track - a primer - volume 1: I've been working on a sport summary for Ted Robinson and the short track crew to try and truly describe what it feels like to skate short track. I've attached a snippet from that. I'll send the whole thing in the next newsletter: 

What does it feel like? Remember those times of walking on slick, wet ice - to your car across frozen puddles, or down the sidewalk after a freezing rain?  

Conversely, remember that moment when your shoes first touched dry asphalt after sliding across the puddle, or the instant when you regained traction after passing under the shelter of the porch roof? To a speedskater, that is exactly it feels like to be on ice with our long blades - it is feeling of traction and grip, stability and power. 

An 18" speedskating blade on perfectly smooth ice is grippier than rubber on asphalt and more stable than a ski on snow. The blade - its sharp edge and its tracking ability while in motion - are able to smoothly receive every ounce of energy provided by powerful leg muscles to propel the skater forward.  

Granted, the motion is sideways - like tacking in the wind with a sailboat - but the 18 inch blade is like yards of canvas gathering wind: the lateral forces are released in a tangential motion and converted to forward speed smoothly yet powerfully. Each stroke on the ice is a combination brute force (sheer power) and ballet (no wasted motion, fluid extension to the very tips of your range).  

Now imagine that ultimate grip - no amount of effort will result in a slip - and a slow concentrated push through with the legs: massive force passing in liquid slow motion through the blade to the ice.  The strength of the contracted leg is absolute, and the hold of the blade provides an supreme feeling of power. The controlled release of the piston-like skating strokes brings to mind the action of a hydraulic cylinder - a fluid, consistent, and powerful extension. 

If you have ever had the ill-fortune to push a stalled car, and were lucky enough to have a curb or wall as a backstop for your feet, then that incredible push you were able to deliver to the car to get it moving is the closest thing in life to the feeling of a speedskating stroke. 

Now, add to this motion the g-force dynamics of a jet fighter and you have the right combination.  

As a skater moves towards the corner, there is a momentary feeling of weightlessness as the body lifts with the final skate stroke, and then falls as the body and center of gravity compresses downward and sideways to enter the corner.  As the direction of the skater changes, centripetal forces cause a 2G acceleration to crush the body lower. In order to stay aligned over the center of the 1mm blades, the skater rolls inward, and the upper body leans way out over the corner blocks. The powerful motion of the crossover (corner strokes) then take over and compel the the preservation of the momentum carried into the corner.

Timed right, you'll see the powerful combination of the full extension of the left leg underneath the right leg, both blades carving firmly inro the apex of the corner.  Having two feet down (left fully extended, right placed firmly down) at that precarious moment prior to the apex block preserves the integrity of the corner and allows the skater to pivot, and then relax the arc of the corner a bit coming out - reducing the G forces and allowing multiple crossover strokes of acceleration into the straightaway.

The apex is also the center of most crashes and disqualifications. At the point of the turn the muscles of the body are stressed to the max - imagine squatting down to a 90 degree bend on one leg... holding it, and then putting on a 200lb backpack. Then balance that on a 1mm wide blade... 

As the skater exits the corner, the body decompresses and lifts with the center of gravity returning to vertical. A pair of straightway strokes later, and it starts all over again.  (for a nice video of short track visit this site ) 

Preview - Newletter #3: I'll probably send one more before I leave and then hopefully report some info live from Italy. I'll call out some of the skaters from other countries to watch.