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Winter Olympics – the cost of gold

Congratulations to Amy Williams. Our solitary medal at Vancouver was thoroughly deserved and it demonstrated that we can compete, as a country, at the winter Olympics. However it also shows, maybe a little cynically, that in order to do so we need money and plenty of it. Of all the Winter events, the sliding sports secured the funding, partly because of success at the last Olympics but also because of the nature of the sport. Reliant on a good start, for which acceleration off the mark is paramount, the potential talent pool for skeleton is large (discounting psychological profiling!) and as such UK sport targeted it as a medal source. It worked, we got a gold and it cost £2.5 million.

I recently posted a video of the US Winter sports training facility, this is the kind of thing needed in the UK. A place where all winter sports can reap the benefits of funding instead of just the one. Start gates for alpine skiing, sliding events, ski-x and boarder-x could be included, an ice rink or two for speedskating and figure skating, a nordic course (for roller skiing without snow) and of course a gym and plyometrics track for all sports could be included. This way all winter sports could benefit instead of just the one that happens to be lucky enough to receive the mainstay of the funding for that Olympic cycle.

Sir Steve Redgrave has mentioned a facility similar to this but aimed at speedskating. The issue I take with this is mainly due to my affiliation with skiing. There is a thriving ski and snowboard industry in the UK with 5 million partaking nationwide, a large number I think you’ll agree. How many skeleton, luge, bobsleigh and speedskating participants are there? Someone within the winter sports industry (hopefully whoever picks up where snowsport GB left off) has to ensure that our skiers and snowboarders, as well as speed and figure skaters, are able to compete with the best in the world as Amy Williams did so successfully. I know there are issues with the organisation of the sports and competing on tours but it’s no different for the US teams and it’s no different for other sports like tennis. This facility could also greatly benefit the junior athletes on performance pathways that don’t compete all the year round as well as our top performers when they’re back in the UK.

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Ski-X

The recent explosion in popularity of the ski-X event in Vancouver is testament to the high octane nature of the sport. I am pleased to see it’s inclusion in the games and the excitement of the action in the men’s finals over the weekend I think shows that the International Olympic Committee made a pretty good decision. But what does it take to make it as a ski-X racer?

First of all, it seems you have to be big. Six of the top eight in the mens event weighed 90kg+ and were around or over 6′ tall. This sort of stature will give an idea as to the demands of the sport but here’s a breakdown. To succeed in ski-X, an athlete needs the ability to start quickly (arguably the most important part of the race), maintain form during tight turns, achieve stable positions for takeoffs and landings, absorb compressive forces on rollers and react quickly to the surrounding race situation. This adds up to an athlete that can generate large upper body forces at the start gate, possesses very strong core musculature for postural control and strong unilateral balance and force generation. A larger athlete will also be more difficult to pass and with gravity being the primary source of acceleration during the race, provided friction isn’t increased to a greater extent, some extra mass is beneficial.

Ski-X is a relatively new sport and little, if any, published data exists relating to it however, it is possible to draw some conclusions regarding the energy systems used during the event based on the time taken to complete the course and the movements involved during the race. The Olympic course was being completed during the qualifying stages in around 1min 15s and the movements involved are isometric, concentric and eccentric unilateral and bilateral squats and lateral lunge derivatives. From this we are able to confidently state that the majority of of energy production is via anaerobic pathways.

The combination of all of these factors mean that there is room to be very creative with the strength and conditioning sessions for ski-X athletes. Aside from general preparation and the usual suspects of squats, deadlifts, stiff leg deadlifts, rows and presses more specific exercises can be designed. For example decline med ball throws, lateral single leg jumps with held single leg landings, band resisted lateral jumps and weight disc tuck holds could all hold a place in a program design. Conditioning sessions could consist of circuits and include balance/proprioception based exercises for some skills under fatigue (a tool I know Brendan utilises with his MMA athletes and finds very useful).

For those also doubting Canada’s ability in these games (not quite owning the podium like we heard before the games), have a look at the video below to see a 1-2-3 for them at the x-games and also get a little more insight into the demands of the sport.

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Why is the USA so far ahead in Vancouver?

I suspect the video below may well be able to help answer that question. This is a state of the art strength and conditioning facility and it shows the attention to detail that they have even included a demonstration kitchen to teach the athletes to cook when they’re on the road, something I can see a great deal of value in. More like this in the UK would be nice!