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Gliding for Gold

The Physics of Winter Sports

Mark Denny

Publication Year: 2011

As anyone from cold climates knows, frequently occurring ice and snow lead to a special appreciation of sports such as skiing, sledding, and skating. Prolific physics popularizer Mark Denny’s take on winter athletics lays out the physical principles that govern glaciated game play. After discussing the physical properties of ice and snow and how physics describes sliding friction and aerodynamic drag, Denny applies these concepts to such sports as bobsledding, snowboarding, and curling. He explains why clap skates would only hinder hockey players, how a curling rock curls, the forces that control luge speed, how steering differs in skiing and snowboarding, and much more. With characteristic accuracy and a touch of wit, Denny provides fans, competitors, and coaches with handy, applicable insight into the games they love. His separate section of technical notes offers an original and mathematically rigorous exploration of the key aspects of winter sports physics. A physics-driven exploration of sports played on ice and snow that is truly fun and informative, Gliding for Gold is the perfect primer for understanding the science behind cold weather athletics.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii

I am grateful to Amanda Bird of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation for permission to reproduce a few of the photos from their gallery; similarly, I am happy to acknowledge the help of Terry Kolesar of U.S.A. Curling, and Katie Perhai of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association in providing images. For allowing me to use their photos of skaters, I thank ...

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The Start Lines

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pp. 1-3

Winter sports (and I mean sports played on snow or ice, not sports that happen to be played in winter, like football) are hugely popular. Ice hockey has been organized into professional leagues in many countries for decades; each team has thousands of fanatical supporters who follow every aspect of the game. Skiing is practiced as a pastime by millions; they and ...

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1. Solid Water—Sports and Science

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pp. 4-26

Welcome to the warm-up. In the next chapter you will be metaphorically hurled headfirst into the cold water of winter sports physics. By way of preparation, so that you may brace yourself, this chapter permits you to first dip a toe. Stated more mundanely (but also less alarmingly—I wouldn’t want you to think that reading this book is going to be like taking a cold ...

PART I. Ice Sports

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2. Skating on Thin Ice

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pp. 29-54

We have seen how thin the ice is—one inch or less—for indoor ice sports such as speed skating and hockey. In this chapter we examine the physics of movement over ice, using ice skates. The act of skating is in many ways unnatural, and yet figure skaters make it look graceful, elegant, and artistic; speed skaters are the fastest people on two feet; and hockey players ...

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3. Down the Slippery Slope

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pp. 55-76

The bobsled (bobsleigh in Canada and Europe), the skeleton, and the luge all use the same track, though with different starting points (as is illustrated in the plan of the Whistler Sliding Centre track in British Columbia, Canada, in fig. 3.1). These events differ in the construction and weight of the sled, in the positions adopted by the sled rider(s), in the manner of ...

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4. Pucks and Rocks

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pp. 77-92

Intrepid winter sports athletes hurl themselves at high speed over ice: they aim to slip, slide, slither, and glide their way from A to B in the fastest time, or at least faster than their opponents. Two of our winter sports, however, involve athletes hurling objects other than themselves. Sure, a hockey player is happy to turn himself into a projectile, directed at an opponent or ...

PART II. Snow Sports

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5. Skiing—On the Slopes and on the Level

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pp. 95-113

There are many images from alpine skiing events at the 2010 Winter Olympics that stand out. You may recall Lindsey Vonn flying down the slopes at Whistler Creekside, bringing to that race a pedigree as world champion and a shin injury, and finishing the race with a gold medal— America’s first in women’s downhill. In the men’s 50-km cross-country ...

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6. Ski Jumping and Snowboarding—On Snow and Air

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pp. 114-140

The physics of winter sports takes off in this chapter, as we follow skiers and snowboarders who leave the slopes and go airborne, under the action of physical forces. We will still encounter our old friends gravity and aerodynamic drag, of course, but we leave sliding friction on the ground and take up with a new force—aerodynamic lift. ...

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The Finish Lines

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pp. 141-144

For an eloquent graphical statement about the eagerness and enthusiasm with which we embrace winter sports, and about the drive which propels athletes to greater heights (actually, lesser heights in downhill events), see the graph on p. 142. This graph shows how the world record time for the men’s 1,500-m long-track speed skating event has decreased over the ...

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pp. 145-148

Here, I provide some questions for you to ponder. Regard these as tutorial questions if you are a university student, or as brain fodder if you are reading this book simply to scratch an intellectual itch. Some questions are easy, others are hard. Some are short, others long. In some cases I will provide a hint or partial answer to the question posed; in other cases you are completely on your own. ...

Technical Notes

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pp. 149-178


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pp. 179-184


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pp. 185-189

E-ISBN-13: 9781421402680
E-ISBN-10: 1421402688
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421402154
Print-ISBN-10: 1421402157

Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 34 halftones, 45 line drawings
Publication Year: 2011