The Winter Olympics, with its 15 sports taking place on ice or snow,
has sometimes been jokingly described as “several different types of
But although that tongue-in-cheek description overlooks the
incredible athleticism and skill on display, it is fair to say that
much of the games’ action relies on physics.
In fact, 20-year-old Czech Republic snowboard cross competitor Eva
Samkova put her recent gold medal success at the 2014 Sochi games in
Russia down to natural forces. “It’s just physics, that’s all,” Samkova
said with a laugh when questioned by reporters about her impressive win.
She singled out her wax technicians in particular for helping to
make her board travel so fast down Sochi’s slopes and leave the other
competitors in her wake.
Friction, gravity and air resistance are the main natural forces
that many Winter Olympic competitors have to consider, particularly
those taking part in the downhill events. Technology can help alleviate
some of the effects of physics and play almost as big a role in the
success of some athletes as their natural ability.
The engineering and design of a bobsled, snowboard or pair of skis
can shave vital milliseconds off an athlete’s time and mean the
difference between a podium finish or a trip home without a medal.
For example, Team Great Britain’s Lizzie Yarnold sped to skeleton
gold in Sochi thanks in part to the cutting edge design of her sled,
built by a division of motorsport company McLaren, which normally
specializes in Formula 1 racing cars.
Its designers used computer simulation to engineer a sled that could
be adapted to suit different tracks by capturing track data using
electronic sensors fitted to the frame.
The company is now working with the British bobsleigh team to design
a revolutionary sled that can compete with the best in the world,
including its motorsport rival Ferrari, which is designing sleds for
the Italian Olympic team.
1. Can you name some of the sports in the Winter Olympics? Which is
most appealing to you and why?
2. Eva Samkova said of her success, “It’s just physics.” Do you think
that physics plays a more significant role in winning a gold medal than
the athletes themselves? Justify your answer.
3. Most winter sportspeople try to decrease friction as much as
possible in their sport, but can you think of a sport when friction is
4. Are the Olympics, Paralympics and Winter Olympics important? Give
reasons for your answer.