Why the Tokyo Heat May Help Olympic Sprinters
Warm, humid air is also less dense than cooler air and slightly reduces drag. This helps explain that baseballs travel farther when struck in hot weather. As the temperature rises, gas molecules in the air move faster and further, reducing resistance to moving objects. And contrary to what many people think, humid air is lighter, not heavier, than dry air because water vapor displaces heavier nitrogen and oxygen molecules.
In places near sea level, such as Tokyo, the combination of heat and humidity is expected to result in an approximately 3 percent reduction in air density (compared to a 25 percent difference between the sea level and elevation of 7,300 feet in Mexico City, the site of the 1968 Summer Olympics), Chapman said.
“Would a variation of 1 to 3% in air density end up affecting performance? It has to be, “he said.” It’s just a question of how big is and how does that magnitude compare to the 57 other elements that can influence an athlete’s performance, from mental to physical to everything else? “
The main concerns for sprinters in Tokyo will be to stay properly hydrated and rested; stay out of the sun as much as possible and expend as little energy as necessary to advance through the preliminary laps.
They might also want to pray for rain.
At the 1968 Olympics, Bob Beamon’s surprising long jump, which broke the existing record by almost two feet, came just before a storm. Just like Wyomia Tyus’ world record in the women’s 100 meters. Clearly, the altitude influenced this performance. But Powell’s jump that broke Beamon’s 1991 record also came before a storm, in Tokyo, which is just 130 feet above sea level.
Jamaica’s Usain Bolt first broke the 100-meter world record following a rainstorm during a meet in New York ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Light rain followed the setting of her current world record of 9.58 seconds at the 2009 world championships in Berlin, observers said.
“I always focused on running the race and didn’t care too much about the weather,” said Bolt.
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