Action for Athens
The workshop was organized by my pal and research colleague Gordon Sleivert, the new Director of Sport Science and Medicine (look for an upcoming interview!) for PacificSport, the national training centre in Victoria for the Canadian cycling, triathlon, rowing, and swimming teams amongst a host of other international-calibre athletes. The goal of the workshop was to bring in top science and medical experts to discuss the conditions that will be experienced in Athens, and how our athletes might adapt best to these conditions and gain an edge over the competition.
What is Athens going to be like this August? Lock yourself in the sauna at the local spa and get a small wood fire started to get an idea. It’s going to be hot, fairly dry, and polluted so bad that there’s an official governmental website detailing everything on a daily basis! What were the main points of discussion?
• Proper monitoring of hydration status and a rehydration strategy are absolutely critical, because NOTHING will impair your performance like dehydration of even 1-2% body weight.
• Over-heating will definitely impact your performance, and pre-cooling prior to your training session or event can offer a major edge in the extreme heat by increasing the heat storage capacity of your body. Using post-cooling strategies after your training session or event can also speed up recovery.
• You can and must adapt to the heat. The good news is that the fitter you are, the more readily you become accustomed to heat. Heat acclimation increases your sweat rate, reduces your perceived exertion at a given workload, and decreases your resting core temperature.
• There is very little you can do to adapt to or minimize the problems from air pollution. We recommended that teams have a staging camp 2-3 weeks beforehand in a location similar in climate to Athens and within the same time zone to minimize problems with jet lag.
• Your peak event of the year is NOT the time to try out exotic new cuisine! At the triathlon World Cup practice event in Athens this past November, defending gold medalist Simon Whitfield enjoyed the Greek food a bit too much and ended up cramping badly on the run.
Learning from the Athletes
The fun thing about the workshop was that the team coaches presented us with their plans for Athens on the second day and we had a round-table discussion with each team. The biggest thing we can learn from these elite performers and coaches, apart from the overwhelming passion for sport, is the critical importance of planning. I chatted with 3-time MTB World Champ Alison Sydor , and she has every single day leading to Athens mapped out already, sometimes down to the details of when she’s having lunch! Often, a systematic plan is in place not just from here on in but in many cases ever since Sydney 2000. There are no quick-fix substitutes to a well-designed training program, and we need to take that same perspective of long-term development of our cycling career.
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. His company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports. He can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at email@example.com.