# Field Theory by Hadyn Green

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### Long Weekend

It has been a long and sleepless weekend. A weekend of tremendous feats, where black became gold and inspiration was only a gnat's whisker away. The kiwis have dug deep and showed the entire world that we are indeed a sleeping giant. They come from a small town and the heart they show is part of an immense effort from that big engine they have in them.

Or something; I'm on a TVNZ commentator-overload at the moment.

Michael Phelps…for the last time

I called this blog Field Theory not only for the clever pun but also because I wanted to bring the science. And science is what helped Phelps win his medals (well science and freakishly large feet).

We all know about the NASA developed Speedo LZR suits, but what about Tim Wei? Tim Wei, a mechanical and aerospace engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, worked with members of the US swimming team and forced bubbles over their bodies in order to determine how fast and hard a swimmer pushes the water as they move through it (at least that's what he said he was doing).

"Wei uses a tracking technique called digital particle image velocimetry, commonly used to measure the flow of small particles around an airplane or small fish"

He also measures the amount of water forced backwards by the swimmers' kicks and can tell individual swimmers how to kick "better".

But what may have helped Mr Phelps a little bit more was measurement error (or rather measurement precision).

In his 100m Butterfly race Phelps beat Serbian Milorad Cavic by .01 seconds (50.58 to 50.59), the smallest unit of time on the clock. It was too close to call by sight and when the times came up I called the race a tie.

You would've heard of measurement error in statistical surveys (like political polls) but with measurement instruments it's a little different. If you have a ruler marked out in centimetres then you can only be accurate to the nearest centimetre. Hence the error in your measurement is (in a rough rule of thumb) one centimetre. So if your measurement tool measures time to .01seconds then your margin of error is (in a rough rule of thumb) .01seconds.

So the Serbs protested, and quite frankly, you'd be a fool not to. However, that's where my faith in science was (slightly) restored.

The Serbians were led into the Omega Timing Room where they were shown the two independent timing systems that measure the swimmers' times to .0001seconds. Beyond that they also have a "video monitor in there that blows any HD plasma out of the water". I'm dying to see the official pictures, but they have yet to surface (sorry couldn't resist the pun, and by the way check out the stills of frames two and three on this site and tell me who you think won)

But is there something slightly fishy about Phelps winning due to an infallible Omega timing system?

Lastly on the historic haul by Michael Phelps, nearly everyone is saying that "no one will ever repeat this feat" and I'm wondering why that is. At the very least there could be a female version.

I think we all worked hard for their gold

We are all very proud of our medallists and many of us stayed up to watch them do their thing. Yelling at the tv, scaring the pets and lamenting the awful announcing (all the bad bits have since been edited out of the replays).

Note that Evers-Swindell twins won by .01seconds as well. In their case I felt that the time was given to them artificially to somehow fit what the photo showed: that they won by a tiny, tiny section of their bow.

The pair with the perfect teeth scrapped hard with the competition and won at the end of a thrilling race that took guts and determination. Afterwards, they told TVNZ, they were in a state of "disbelief". They were shocked at being able to defend their Olympic gold after a recent slump in form.

Whereas the fantastic and supremely confident Valerie Vili won with her first throw (although four of her five throws would have secured gold). Vili yelled defiantly at the camera and made hand gestures (scroll down that page), she leaped about with pure joy when she won and she challenged the establishment when she tried to retrieve a New Zealand flag from the crowd.

So, which gold medallist do you think best represented New Zealand?

By the way, wasn't good that Mahe Drysdale faked all that illness, weight-loss, memory loss* and finally vomiting just to break New Zealand's bronze medal drought?

*I love the opening line of that story: "Mahe Drysdale was so out of it…" All they needed was a "bro".

The actual sport

• Various athletes have already been thrown out of the games for various reasons. The Swedish bronze medallist in the wrestling was thrown out and stripped of his medal for… throwing away his medal.
• Kim Jong Su of North Korea was thrown out after he tested positive for propanolol. Su had won the silver medal in the 50m pistol and bronze in the 10m air pistol. Propanolol is a drug that can be used to suppress trembling. This makes Su the first medal-winner to have been found cheating.
• Vili's gold medal was our first in Athletics since John Walker in Montreal and our first in the field events since Yvette Williams in Helsinki
• Gizmodo may just help us view those foreign broadcasts we all want to have a gander at
• Only on a day where we win five Olympic medals can the All Blacks blanking the Springboks in South Africa (for the first time ever) be second page news. And that was a great game by the way, featuring Captain Tackles at his best. Also Bay of Plenty is unbeaten, just saying.
• Finally, the coolest things at the Olympics are often the sideshows. The volleyball cheerleaders, Ms. Bug Catcher and the Sandbonies, the water-drum girls. But my favourite is the Jaws theme music, which is played as the waterpolo players race out to get the ball at the restart.

### 107 responses to this post

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• Only on a day where we win five Olympic medals can the All Blacks blanking the Springboks in South Africa (for the first time ever) be second page news. And that was a great game by the way, featuring Captain Tackles at his best.

I liked the Guardian's mach report headline: All Blacks manage crisis.

Oh, and Stephen Jones, still a cock:

The contrast between the sides was massive. New Zealand are nothing special. They hardly offered anything in attack and Dan Carter, who missed five kicks at goal, is these days nothing more than a serviceable player with the odd decent flash of brilliance, but New Zealand’s tactical aware-ness and basic skills were on a different planet, and their defence was outstanding. Furthermore, they took massive advantage of the fact that yet again, a referee in charge of a match involving New Zealand was utterly hoodwinked by their infringements at the breakdown. South Africa, staggeringly, were penalised off the park at the breakdown.

Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

• I liked the Guardian's mach report headline: All Blacks manage crisis.

I'm printing T-shirts with the phrase: If only all our crises were like All Blacks crises.

Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

• Mike at the Dropkicks managed to unearth the Michael Phelps frame by frame.

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2090 posts Report Reply

• How about that Usain Bolt? He smashes the 100m record, cruising with his arms out wide from about 80m, all with one of his shoes untied (supposedly).

Michael Phelps, bah.

Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 317 posts Report Reply

• Oh, and Stephen Jones, still a cock:

Peter Bills for the Independent does much better.

A towering mountain overlooks the beautiful Newlands ground in the Cape, and a towering rugby player graced it yesterday. Richie McCaw gave one of the greatest displays in rugby history to shatter the new world champions in their own backyard. South Africa finished a fumbling, broken outfit, laid to waste by the genius of McCaw on the floor and his brilliant reading of the game, allied to coruscating tackling.

The Kiwi flanker and captain gave Schalk Burger a lesson in accuracy and precision. The Springbok lacks nothing in courage and commitment but when it came to detail, McCaw was in a class of his own. He won the loose ball constantly, cleverly slowed it down when the situation required it, and made tackle after tackle. No other player on the field was remotely in his class.

I had to look ‘coruscating’ up in the dictionary.

Christchurch • Since Aug 2007 • 418 posts Report Reply

• Mike at the Dropkicks managed to unearth the Michael Phelps frame by frame.

Cool! Picture, thousand words, etc. It plays out like I thought I saw it live -- all in the last reach of the arms.

Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

• I had to look ‘coruscating’ up in the dictionary.

North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

• How about that Usain Bolt? He smashes the 100m record, cruising with his arms out wide from about 80m, all with one of his shoes untied (supposedly).

Michael Phelps, bah.

Yeah but when Phelps won his medals he wasn't even wearing shoes!

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2090 posts Report Reply

• But seriously -- does sports writing have to swing violently between the Grinch-y and the kind of prose an editor at Mills & Boon would find... well, ever so slightly over-wrought?

North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

• I had to look ‘coruscating’ up in the dictionary.

I think that's a fair point Craig. In all sports you have to buy into the importance of it to care about it. If you don't care it does look a bit silly. One thing about the Olympics is the level of skill on display. It's hard not to be impressed by a gymnast doing back flips on a beam, or two divers hitting the water simultaneously, even if the 'why' of it is remote. Same with the nationalism. If you care, Valerie's near tears on the dais brings a lump to your throat, if you don't care it all looks rather contrived.

Christchurch • Since Aug 2007 • 418 posts Report Reply

• And ditto to the point about sports writing in general. Couldn't agree more.

Christchurch • Since Aug 2007 • 418 posts Report Reply

• This piece from Omega, raises something I should've thought of (by putting 2 and 2 together).

With timing Olympic swimming comes the problem that it is impossible to create a pool where each lane is exactly the same length!

So was it the fact that Phelps' lane was .001seconds shorter?

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2090 posts Report Reply

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 527 posts Report Reply

• the odd decent flash of brilliance

Stephen? How can something be brilliance and decent at the same time?

Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

• can the All Blacks blanking the Springboks in South Africa

Does this mean the All Blacks quaxed the Springboks?

Christchurch • Since Mar 2008 • 228 posts Report Reply

• With timing Olympic swimming comes the problem that it is impossible to create a pool where each lane is exactly the same length!

Of course, it will also be impossible to create a pool where each lane is the same length as itself. Perhaps Cavic should have aimed for the part of his lane that was closest :-)

Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

• In all sports you have to buy into the importance of it to care about it. If you don't care it does look a bit silly.

Sure, but I think the baseline of all good writing is that it communicates enthusiasm and knowledge, especially when the subject in hand isn't necessarily something the reader knows or even cares about. I love good science writing, for example, precisely because I'm an utter tech-tard. But perhaps it's just me, but when the hyperbole gets cranked up to eleven I feel pushed out rather than engaged.

North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

• Well i think hadyn is a reall asset to the world of PA.
and the thing i love about his posts is that he is writing as a sports fan, not a critic not some educated scientist, but a fan.

and it's brilliant and it's fun and you know what if it's not your cup of tea, why not say your peace and leave it at that.

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 527 posts Report Reply

• I'm printing T-shirts with the phrase: If only all our crises were like All Blacks crises.

I'll take one

Christchurch • Since Mar 2008 • 228 posts Report Reply

• and it's brilliant and it's fun and you know what if it's not your cup of tea, why not say your peace and leave it at that.

I think the discussion was about hyperbole in sports writng in general and Craig's point about it in the Peter Bills quote. Not anything from this fine post.

Christchurch • Since Aug 2007 • 418 posts Report Reply

• not a critic not some educated scientist, but a fan

And these are exclusive contingencies ?

I know a few that might take issue with that.........

Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

• I think the discussion was about hyperbole in sports writng in general and Craig's point about it in the Peter Bills quote. Not anything from this fine post.

Um, yes... Sue, if there were a few more sports hacks in the MSM like Hadyn (who in my not at all humble opinion is an enthusiast in the very best sense) I'd be a very happy chap indeed. Well, happier.

North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

• if there were a few more sports hacks in the MSM like Hadyn (who in my not at all humble opinion is an enthusiast in the very best sense) I'd be a very happy chap indeed.

Hadyn begins to rewrite his CV...

And thanks Sue! Flattery is always accepted.

Although I suppose I should point out that I am an educated scientist too.

Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2090 posts Report Reply

• I think the discussion was about hyperbole in sports writng in general

When ever someone suggests that the All Blacks have played there finest performance ever (or that a particular All Black has) I always dispute this and ramble on about their great performance against Australia/The English/someone during some year in the 1930s or 1940s.

Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

• michael phelps? meh.

who was the african distance runner who won gold for 4 olympics straight? in a field where you could probably only win two medals in a games?

*that's* a great athlete.

the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply