Archive for October, 2010

Relay DQ, pole vault double bronze in Delhi

October 12th, 2010
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Here’s my summary of today’s track action in Delhi, from the Canadian Running site:

The pole vaulters saved the day for Canada in an otherwise bittersweet final session of track and field at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi on Tuesday. (The marathons are still to come on Thursday, but no Canadians will be competing.) Carly Dockendorf and Kelsie Hendry each vaulted 4.25 metres to finish in a three-way tie with England’s Kate Dennison for the bronze medal. Earlier in the evening, the Canadian men’s 4×100-metre relay squad had been disqualified for a botched exchange after posting the fastest time in the semi-finals — a time that would have comfortably won gold had they repeated it in the final.

A stirring final leg by Edmonton’s Carline Muir almost brought the women’s 4×400-metre relay team onto the podium, coming up just a fraction short to finish fourth in a time of 3:30.20. The home team from India held off Nigeria to win the gold medal, stirring the packed stadium to a frenzy. Here’s what Muir had to say after the race:

For distance running fans, the highlights were the women’s 5,000 metres and the men’s 1,500 metres. In the 5,000, Kenyans Vivian Cheruiyot, Sylvia Kibet and Ines Chenonge sat at the back of the nine-person field for the first two kilometres, covered in a modest 6:53, then gradually pulled away to sweep the medals. The winning time was 15:55.12. Scotland’s Stephanie Twell, a sub-15-minute runner and medalist in the 1,500 metres earlier this week, took fourth, while Canada’s Megan Wright finished eighth.

The Kenyans were also seeking to sweep the 1,500, led by sub-3:30 man Silas Kiplagat. Leading the challenge was New Zealand’s defending Commonwealth champ and Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis. Through the first three laps, it was the three Kenyans leading at a pedestrian pace (59.9, 2:02.2, 3:03.3), followed by Willis, with the entire field in close contact. It wasn’t until 180 metres to go that the final finishing sprint was launched, with Willis managing to overtake Gathimba in the final straight to earn a bronze behind Kiplagat and Magut. Here are Willis’s post-race comments:

Achilles tendons, platelet-rich plasma and Megan Wright

October 11th, 2010

Today’s Globe has my article on new approaches to treating and preventing Achilles tendinopathy, including platelet-rich plasma therapy, a.k.a. blood spinning. Since I’m in Delhi, I had a chance to speak to the experts here with the Canadian team, and to Megan Wright (2008 Olympic 5,000-metre finalist who missed most of 2009 with Achilles tendon problems):

… In some cases, though, tendinopathy doesn’t respond to conservative treatment. In the months before and after the Olympics, Ms. Wright tried icing, acupuncture, sleeping in a “night splint” and “kinesio taping” – applying special tape along the length of the calf to relieve strain on the tendon. She even tried intramuscular stimulation, sometimes called “deep needling,” in her calves – a procedure that, as the name suggests, involves sticking needles deep into the calf muscle.

Finally, she turned to platelet-rich plasma. Since tendons have a very poor blood supply (unlike muscles), minor tears and inflammation tend to heal slowly. PRP therapy involves drawing a small amount of the patient’s own blood, spinning it in a centrifuge to concentrate the most useful components (the platelets) and reinjecting this concentrated plasma at the injury site. The platelets then release various “growth factors” that stimulate the body’s natural healing response… [READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE]

Wright races tomorrow night against a tough field, including the inevitable trio of Kenyans. I’ll be live-tweeting the race, which is scheduled to start at 11:20 a.m. Eastern time, at @sweatscience.

Diane Cummins, master tactician

October 11th, 2010
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Here’s the recap of today’s Canadian Commonwealth track medals that I wrote for Canadian Running‘s website. There would have been video interviews too, but I forgot to put the SD card back in the camera before heading down to the track. I’m still learning this “new media” stuff!

A thrilling stretch run by veteran 800-metre runner Diane Cummins capped another medal-filled day for Canadian athletes at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi on Monday, following up the previous day’s golds from high jumper Nicole Forrester and long jumper Alice Falaiye.

Leading off was veteran 100-metre hurdler Angela Whyte, an Olympic finalist in 2004 who has struggled since having knee surgery in 2008. The Edmontonian’s silver medal in a “comeback best” of 12.98 seconds puts her back on track to rejoin teammates Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and Perdita Felicien among the best in the world. Next up was a surprise bronze medal in the 200 metres from Canadian champion Adrienne Power, who earlier this year moved from Nova Scotia to Texas to train with renowned coach Monte Stratton.

Cummins entered the race ranked near the bottom of the field, but with more championship experience than anyone else in the final. Co-favourite Tintu Luka of India took the field through in a brisk 57.5, to the rapturous approval of the crowd. With 250 metres to go, Olympic champion Nancy Langat of Kenya moved to the front, while Cummins languished back in sixth place. Around the final bend, Cummins began moving through the field, setting up a rousing finish as first Luka and then Langat began to fade. With 10 metres left, all three medal spots were still in question.

At the line, it was Langat in 2:00.02, followed by Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand in 2:00.05, with Cummins picking up the bronze in 2:00.13. “If I’d had two more metres…” she said after the race, smiling. “But they don’t race 802 metres, they race 800 metres.” At 36 years of age, Cummins, who like Whyte had surgery in 2008, isn’t yet ready to retire – London in 2012 is a possibility, she said. She’ll likely run more 1,500-metre races next year, where her tactical skills will once again come into play. “For me, racing is really what it’s all about,” she said. “That’s why middle-distance races are so exciting – it’s not just about who’s fastest.”

Crowd support in Delhi

October 10th, 2010
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There were some media stories early on about the lack of crowd support at the Commonwealth Games. I think that was a bit overblown — anyone who’s ever been to the weekday morning qualifying session of a major championship meet knows the crowds can be pretty sparse. I mean, people have jobs! Admittedly, the crowds for the cycling road races today (Sunday) were almost non-existent, because the security perimeter made it virtually impossible to get anywhere near the course! Even with accreditation, it took me ages to get anywhere the start-finish area.

For a true measure of Indian sports crowds, though, I went to the India-Pakistan field hockey match tonight. It was fantastic! Great energy, a friendly guy beside me explained some of the history behind the rivalry, and only a few giant bugs attacked me. Here’s some grainy cell-phone footage that gives some idea of the energy in the stadium:

Inflammation is needed to repair injured muscle

October 9th, 2010

There’s growing recognition that anti-inflammatory drugs aren’t always the best response to muscle soreness or injury. In that light, the press release accompanying a new study in the FASEB Journal is overstating things when it says “the study shows for the first time that inflammation actually helps to heal damaged muscle tissue, turning conventional wisdom on its head.” Still, the results are interesting:

The research report shows that muscle inflammatory cells produce the highest levels of IGF-1 [insulin-like growth factor-1], which improves muscle injury repair. To reach this conclusion, the researchers studied two groups of mice. The first group of mice was genetically altered so they could not mount inflammatory responses to acute injury. The second group of mice was normal. Each group experienced muscle injury induced by barium chloride. The muscle injury in the first group of mice did not heal, but in the second group, their bodies repaired the injury.

The paper itself makes it clear that researchers already knew that inflammation was important to muscle repair, but the mechanism (i.e. the role of macrophages in producing IGF-1) was unclear. So does this mean that anti-inflammatories are a bad idea after muscle injury? Not necessarily — too much inflammation can still cause problems (for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me). What the authors propose is that, when a muscle injury is being treated with anti-inflammatories, it may make sense to also administer supplemental IGF-1 to compensate for what the anti-inflammatories are blocking.

“Light visors” to beat jet-lag

October 9th, 2010

Cyclist Tara Whitten has done a lot of travelling over the past few weeks — from the world road race championships in Australia directly to Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, 10 races in less than two weeks. I chatted with her yesterday after she picked up her third bronze medal of these Games, in the individual pursuit, about how she handled the travel.


The cycling team — like many other Canadian national teams — has been working with Calgary sleep specialist Charles Samuels, the pre-eminent person in the field. He gave them lots of the standard advice about jet-lag, like getting as much rest as possible on the flight and then focusing on proper cycles of light and dark upon arrival.

She also used melatonin for a few days after arrival. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m trying melatonin for the first time on this trip, which started in Canada, included four nights in London, two weeks in India, and then finishes in Australia. So far I’ve been very happy with it: while I’ve been tired after the flights, I haven’t had any trouble sleeping at night and staying awake during the day. That may simply be because my flights have all had morning arrivals, after which I’ve managed to stay up all day — a good way to reset your clock even without melatonin.

Anyway, the one thing Whitten mentioned that surprised me was that she (and other cyclists, I believe) are using light visors to make sure their bodies get the “daylight” signal loud and clear at the appropriate times of day (first thing in the morning if you’re flying east, late afternoon/early evening if you’re flying west). These things (which, from what I can tell, cost a couple hundred dollars) have been around for years, and are sometimes used for seasonal affective disorder, but it’s the first time I’ve heard an elite athlete mention them.


Track and field action in Delhi

October 8th, 2010
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I’ve posted a round-up of Canada’s day three track and field action at the Commonwealth Games at the Canadian Running site, including a video interview with Nicole Edwards after her fifth-place 1,500-metre run.

Doping in triathlon: the passport system

October 8th, 2010
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Had an interesting chat yesterday with Leslie Buchanan, the International Triathlon Union’s Vancouver-based director of anti-doping. She’s here with WADA’s outreach program, setting up daily in the Athlete’s Village to answer questions about the rules and the reasons for them. (Most of the questions she’s fielding are about the whereabouts program, which requires athletes to be reachable by their country’s anti-doping officials at all times.)

Anyway, I asked her why triathlon seems to have dodged the perception of widespread dirtiness that plagues its constituent sports (perhaps cycling most of all, but distance running and swimming have hardly been squeaky clean). She noted that triathlon has really only had four high-profile busts: Dmitriy Gaag, Brigitte McMahon, Mariana Ohata and Wang Hongni. Part of it is money: as a newer sport that’s only been in the Olympics for a decade, there wasn’t the same incentive for triathletes to dope until relatively recently.

Obviously that’s no longer the case. But I didn’t realize that triathlon has followed cycling’s lead and, starting this year, instituted a “biological passport” program. While cycling is apparently aiming for 12 blood tests per year, triathlon is starting with a more modest program: a minimum of three and aiming for six bloods per year for each of its top 50 men and women. That will hopefully establish a baseline so that deviations will trigger an alarm even in the absence of a positive urine test. The system went into effect at the beginning of 2010.

I’d heard a lot of talk about biological passports, but I hadn’t realized that they’re actually being implemented in some sports. Anyone know which (if any) other sports have them? Does track and field?

First day of track in Delhi

October 6th, 2010
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My report on the men’s 5000 metres, along with a few other notes from the first day of track and field action at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi (and a short video of England’s Chris Thompson, who finished fifth), is now available on the Canadian Running website. I’ll be posting occasional reports there, focusing on the distance events. I’ll also live-tweet some of the distance events (as I did for the 5,000 metres tonight) at @sweatscience.

What does a nutritionist do at an international Games?

October 6th, 2010

I went to the Delhi 2010 Athletes Village for the first time yesterday (generally lovely, if a little rough around the edges in places), to chat with Jon Kolb, the head of sports science for the Canadian team here, and Trent Stellingwerff, the member of Kolb’s team responsible for nutrition. We had a really interesting talk about the kinds of things they’re up to behind the scenes, which I’ll try to describe in the coming days. To start, here’s a great example of what Trent was doing in the days leading up to the Games.

While the cafeteria at the Village is excellent, many athletes will be too far away when they’re competing to return for lunch. In these cases, it’s standard practice at major Games to order an “athlete venue meal” (AVM) that will be delivered to the venue at a specified time. Given the hot climate and the ever-present risk of “Delhi belly,” Trent decided he’d better check out the AVM system. So, a few days before competition started, he ordered the very first AVM — “AVM 001” — asking that it be delivered at noon to the cycling venue. Then he showed up at the appointed time… and waited.

“It came 30 minutes late, in a warm cooler,” he said. “It was a raw salmon sandwich with mayonnaise — basically the worst possible scenario for food poisoning.” That was enough to convince the team staff. No Canadian athletes are relying on AVMs here — instead, they shipped in some familiar non-perishable food from Canada, and are also bringing easily portable food (e.g. bananas) from the dining hall.

Of course, Trent was left with the dodgy AVM he’d ordered — while the delivery guy, happy to have made his first successful delivery, sat beside him and waited for him to eat it. Trent finally asked for a spoon, and when the delivery guy went to get, he stashed the sandwich in his bag for later disposal!

On the topic of food, here are the first two meals I had in Delhi:


img_0002In my defence, my flight arrived at 7 a.m., and by the time I got to my hotel and got checked in, I was jet-lagged and furiously hungry. I went wandering down the street in search of food, and the first place I found was a McDonald’s. I haven’t been in one in years, but I’d heard that McDonald’s in India are quite different because of the lack of beef — so I figured it would be a cultural experience! (The verdict: “special sauce” is indeed interesting when it’s spiced up with curry, but I don’t feel any need to sample it again.)

My second meal, thanks to a suggestion from one of the Games volunteers, was a masala dhosa from Saravana Bhavan — much, much better!