CORVALLIS - An Oregon State University professor has received a grant from the International Olympic Committee to conduct research on the biomechanics of speed skaters competing at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
The timing, says Gerald Smith, couldn't be better.
"There is a new skate design which has been accepted and records are falling everywhere," Smith said. "Skaters are just getting tuned into the new style and how it will change technique. The traditional skate has two points of attachment to the blade, toe and heel, while the new design has a single point of attachment. It allows a longer stroke and decreases the drag force on ice."
A professor of exercise and sport science at OSU, Smith directs the Biomechanics Laboratory in the College of Health and Human Performance. At Nagano, he will use multiple cameras to film the men's 5,000 and 10,000 meter races, and the women's 3,000 and 5,000 meter races.
After returning to his laboratory at OSU, Smith and his team of researchers will systematically analyze the tapes, a frame at a time, and characterize the skaters' techniques.
"We look at leg and trunk positions, the range of knee motion, and other mechanical differences," he said. "In the long events, fatigue begins to affect a skater's style. For example, there may be subtle changes in the trunk position; when the race starts, the trunk is almost horizontal. But it is extremely difficult to maintain that position in the latter stages of the race."
Smith said most skaters will probably use the new "clap skate" design - named for the clapping noise the skate makes when the blade retreats after the skating motion. The skate was designed by a team of biomechanics researchers in The Netherlands.
This will be Smith's third trip to the Winter Olympics. He conducted similar research on Nordic skiers at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, and the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
Those research projects resulted in a series of journal articles and professional presentations, as well as an ongoing web site. Smith said the purpose of the research, funded by the Medical Commission of the International Olympic Committee, is to make data available to athletes and researchers of all countries - not to give one country an advantage.
Note to Editors: Gerry Smith is on sabbatical this term in eastern Washington. He can be reached by telephone, 509-996-2669, or e-mail, through Feb. 2, when he leaves for Nagano.