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Will wind turbines take the long track speedskaters to gold?

Team Jumbo-Visma is going for gold at the World Championships this weekend in Salt Lake City. For this, they have worked on a new special training method. The Data Mining and Sports group of the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS) was involved in the development of this method.

High speed

‘Salt Lake City, where this year's World Championships are taking place, is more than a kilometer above sea level. The air pressure in the Utah Olympic Oval is much lower than in Thialf, for example. Because of the lower air pressure, there is lower air resistance,' says coach Jac Orie. ‘The skaters therefore always reach a higher speed in those races.’ The skaters are not used to this higher speed and get problems with the stroke frequency and corners. As a result, skaters are unable to make the turns properly.

Wind in the back

In project Vortex the conditions of Salt Lake City and Calgary were imitated in Thialf. By placing large fans next to the rink, they created a flow of air that gives the skaters the wind in their back. This allows the skaters to get used to the high speed in advance and get prepared for Salt Lake City.

Tracking skates

Jeroen van der Eb, researcher at LIACS, is working with Viking and the Vrije Universiteit on the ‘tracking skate' in which sensors in the skate can measure forces exerted by the skater. ‘We did a test with Jac Orie with wind turbines in Thialf. Without wind in the back, skaters can take a turn fast. But with wind in the back they have much more trouble with that. Whether this is due to a slightly higher speed or a change in technique is now being investigated,’ says Van der Eb.

Learning experience

The skaters have been training with this method, which was developed together with Red Bull, since last year’s summer. Jac Orie: 'I hope that because of the high-speed training, we will make fewer mistakes. And that we get used to the speed faster. But even if this does not work out in the end, we will still learn a lot from it.’

ⓒ Jarno Schurgers/Red Bull. Jeroen van der Eb explains the data to the skaters.
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