For a copy of the article, visit www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123195950/abstract.
The Winter Olympics are being held in Vancouver, British Columbia, which is practically at sea level. The ice events also are nearly at sea level, with other venues ranging from altitudes of around 2,600 feet for the sled events to around 5,000 feet for women's and men's downhill skiing.
Chapman said fans should expect few record times in speed skating events because of the low altitude and greater air resistance facing athletes. He and his co-authors note in their paper that current world records for men and women in every long-track speed skating event from the 500-meter to 10,000-meter races were set in Olympics held in either Calgary, at an altitude of 3,400 feet, or Salt Lake City, with an altitude of 4,300 feet. They note that every Olympic record for all individual event distances was set at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, with none topped in the 2006 Winter Olympics held in Turin, which lies at an altitude of 784 feet.
"The general thought is that altitude slows you down because you have less oxygen going to your muscles," Chapman said. "But at altitude, just as it is easier to hit a home run in the thin air of Denver, speed skaters in Calgary and Salt Lake City could skate faster, move through the air faster, because there was less drag. Eight years after Salt Lake City, we have natural improvements that you'd expect to see involving training, coaching and technology, but we won't see many records in Vancouver. It doesn't mean the athletes are worse, if anything they're probably better. It's the effects of altitude on athletes' times."
Air density can have a dramatic effect on ski jumping, he said, requiring
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