Sports exploits reveal their secrets thanks to equations

By trying to twist the different sporting disciplines into mathematical or physical equations, we may have some surprises. One year before the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, a book has shaken up many of the certainties of sports fans. Did you know – the organizers of the events undoubtedly know – that it is better not to do too many doping controls?

It is not a question of encouraging cheating and tarnishing the image of this global meeting, but rather of avoiding excluding honest athletes: if we consider that 10% of practitioners of a discipline doping and anti-doping tests are 95% reliable, one in three positive tests will concern a non-doping athlete… and will lead to the disqualification of a fair competitor. It sounds crazy, but the demonstration is clear.

Mathematician and research director at the CNRS, Amandine Aftalion explore in Why are we leaning in turns?, sometimes playfully and with humor but always with pedagogy and scientific rigor, many disciplines and their secrets. If the sprinters decelerate before the finish line, it is not because they think they have lost their competitors (the second, third and other pursuers also slow down), it is because a 100 meters is too short for the mechanism of energy production in aerobic mode (by tissue oxygenation) fully produces its effect. Most of a sprint is thus done anaerobically, the runner drawing on the energy stock contained in his body.

Quiz-style riddles

When we approach shot put, long or high jumps, Newton’s universal law of gravitation is obviously invoked. Enough to revise the rule according to which all bodies fall at the same speed. Two or three equations later, we understand why the athlete who dreams of a podium in the shot put must throw his ball at an angle of 42 degrees relative to the horizontal. If he aims a little higher, his projectile will stay in the air for as long, but will fall less far. Same if the angle of the throw is more acute.

Through the chapters presented as so many technical sheets for the different sports, the reader will find something to shine in the evening with a few riddles, quiz style: do you know why a downhill skier avoids staying in the air for a long time when he jumps after a bump ? Because the air slows him down more than the friction of the snow on his skis when he can maintain his optimized aerodynamic position. These situations that everyone knows or thinks they know, such as the drag effect which reduces the effort of a cyclist pedaling in the wheel of someone in front, are all opportunities for the author to explain these notions in an enlightening way. basic physics.

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