Athletes get a boost from scientific training

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Athletes get a boost from scientific training

Hard work and continuous training are the keys to success in any athletic competition.

But aside from that and good coaching, sports science may also play a role in Korea's success at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

The Korean Institute of Sports Science is a team of 17 researchers who provide vital scientific information about how to improve the national team's equipment and performance.

One of the teams that has benefited most from KISS research over the years is the short-track speed skating team. In this thrilling event, which requires athletes to speed around a small oval-shaped ice track, the smallest fraction of a second can make the difference between a gold and a silver medal.

At the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, Korea's short-track speed skating team managed to earn a total of 10 medals, six of them gold.

"We analyze our athletes and come up with methods and new equipment to improve their performance. Then it takes anywhere from one to four years for the athletes to successfully implement the changes into their routine," said Lee Soon-ho, who is in charge of the short-track speed skating team at KISS.

"Those who have good fundamental skills adapt to the changes faster than others."

As is the case in other sports, a solid set of skills is an important component of competition, and the emphasis on fundamentals is what sets the short-track team apart from its international rivals, Lee said.

"In key situations during competitions, unexpected circumstances are bound to arise. Athletes with a good set of fundamental skills are able to overcome such difficulties more easily than others," added Lee.

A strong training routine to teach the basic skills is the coaching staff's job. The KISS researchers play their part by suggesting extra changes to help push the national team over the edge.

According to Lee, KISS' work paid dividends at the 1992 World Championships in France and the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics.

"In a drastic change from the past, we trained our athletes to follow the lead and save a final burst of energy for the last lap," explained Lee.

The next big change came at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in the relay events. Unlike the sprint relay events at the Summer Olympics, the short-track events do not have a designated area from which athletes are required to jump into the race.

"Our athletes are physically smaller than athletes from other countries, including China, and that meant our athletes were losing out on the battle for positioning during the races," said Lee.

"So we decided to have our athletes skate an extra half lap to maintain their pace and take physique out of the equation as much as possible.

"The training to prepare for the event was physically demanding and it took two years for our athletes to adapt to the changes."

For the 2006 Turin Winter Games, KISS had the national team increase the height of the cup, or the medal studs, that hold the blade of the skate to the boot.

The change made more physical demands on the skaters, but according to Lee, it allowed them to make heavier leans for quicker turns around the corners.

As for the Vancouver Games, Lee has worked with the short-track speed skating coaches on a new change. But with competition merely days away, he's tight-lipped about the techniques and equipment that could give Korea the edge.

"As one of the top teams in the short-track events, many countries are interested in our research work and game plan. I'll be able to discuss the matter at the end of the Olympics, when we see how well the changes worked out for our athletes," said Lee.


By Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]

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