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Skeleton Science

February 19, 2010

Rheanna Sand

Science in Seconds Blog by Rheanna Sand

In a sport measured to a hundredth of a second, every aspect of equipment design is important. Careening down a frozen track at 130km/h with nothing but a helmet and your own body strength to protect you, as Olympic skeleton athletes do, causes you to pay attention to detail.

This is why Canadian skeleton rider Jeff Pain spoke out against what he perceives as illegal modifications to the sled runners by the German team. He claimed there are magnetic fields in the runner posts, and implied that these fields confer a competitive advantage to the rider.

The idea is that two fields interact to absorb vibrations. Think of bringing two repelling magnets together: it almost feels the same as a hydraulic mechanism, like a shock absorber. So if the rider feels fewer shocks, the ride is smoother. More strength and attention can be devoted to better lines, and ultimately, faster runs.

And, according to FIBT rules, "all types of treatment are forbidden, including those which cause only a local variation of physical characteristics" with an explanation further down that "physical" includes terms like "electromagnetic."

A magnetic field IS an electromagnetic field, so its clear that using magnets in the runners would constitute an illegal modification. But the German team vehemently denied these allegations, and previous inspections during World Cup rounds have never found anything illegal in their sleds. Plus, they finished 7th, 10th, and 13th in the Men's final last night, with Canadian Jon Montgomery stealing gold in a dramatic finish.

I'm guessing for now, Jeff Pain doesn't mind letting this one go.

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