Thursday, June 15, 2006

Atmospheric Confusion

The Fifa World Cup is providing some great entertainment, and one of the only times that I watch sports (save for the other four-year sporting events, the Olympics). Ecuador just defeated Costa Rica by a score of 3-0, which in football is a thrashing — but what has compelled me to post something (it would have to be something really triggering if you know me, otherwise, the CrazyComposer writing about sports? right, not) was a comment that came from a BBC commentator before the beginning of the game, and then from one of the commentators after the game.

These brilliant analysts, who know far more about football than I do (which really isn't very much), came out with the comment that, "it would be difficult for Ecuador to win here in Germany, away from the rarefied atmosphere of Quito." At the end of the match the Ecuadorians had availed themselves with great aplomb, and consummate skill, and then another commentator said, "before the tournament began we dismissed as a team that could not win away from the 9,000 ft altitude of Quito, they've proven us wrong."

So, why am I writing? What could drive me to such distraction? Stupid people. I hear stupid people. When there are sporting events in locations that are at higher altitudes what happens to the human body? It doesn�t function as effectively. Why? As a result of the rarefied atmosphere, there isn't as much oxygen in the blood. Why should that be a problem? Well, it isn't much of a problem save for that oxygen is one of the key components necessary for our cells to keep running. The process is called aerobic respiration, and it is the foundation of life.

In rarefied atmospheres athletes will perform below the level that they trained at normally. To remedy this, elite athletes will train, at altitude, before the event in order to acclimatize their bodies to the altitude. Consider the difficulties that athletes had at the 1968 Olympic Summer Games in Mexico City. At only 7,349 ft above sea level these were the highest games in history, and they posed severe problems for the athletes. Those who took the time to train at altitude excelled, those who didn't, sucked wind (or tried).

Since the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City were at 4,226 ft above sea level some athletes went to train in high altitude areas, including the Alps, to gain an advantage over their opponents. They did this to improve their overall form and in order to work on their stamina so that they would be able to better metabolise the oxygen at the lower altitude. Others went to greater extremes.

At 9,000 ft above sea level Quito is one of the extremes in human geography, but knowing what we know about the Sherpas who regularly trek up Mount Everest and live in the rarefied atmosphere of Nepal, there are physiological differences in the peoples of extreme altitudes. In order to survive at such heights the human body adapts to metabolise the rarefied oxygen more efficiently, which prevents Sherpas from falling off the mountains as they traverse the trails.

As you go down the mountain, the atmosphere becomes denser and the availability of oxygen becomes greater. This means it becomes easier for the people of high altitude to get the building blocks of energy into their system — it takes them less energy to get moving.

The moment I heard that Ecuador was playing Poland, last Friday I knew they would thrash them. While I cannot say I'm a "fan" of Ecuador (in the sense that I don�t have team posters on the wall), if they win the World Cup I'd be thrilled — especially after being summarily dismissed by the "experts". This morning's game was the clincher: while watching these guys play it was amazing, they seemed to have boundless energy while the Costa Ricans (sea level) were whipped — I wonder why (you want football fans? here, these are real football fans - PG13, some ... well, see for yourself ... some enthusiastic young women).

Considering that the commentators have been going on and on about the heat at this World Cup (the poor British, they drank about 17 litres during their first game and lost about ten pounds each), you would think that they would have made the connection between the guys from Quito and the possibility that their abilities might just be enhanced by the thicker air of Deutschland.

On another football note —

Oh well — perhaps my expectations are too high. Even so, the British are about to face off against Trinidad & Tobago, the team that has to win the "Heart" award after their 0-0 tie with Sweden on June 10. As the final whistle was blown the players of Sweden acted as though they had just lost the final game of the World Cup rather than the first while the players from Trinidad & Tobago were celebrating as though they had just won the final.

That is what this game is about: Heart. A team that is not given a prayer to win, a team ranked 47th that is making its debut in the World Cup. They are so thrilled to be at the tournament that to not lose their first game is a victory. Watching the game was a joy for the simple reason that it reminded me of when I was very young and used to watch hockey on an old black & white television in my bedroom.

At the end of the careers of Ken Dryden and Guy Lafleur, and the beginning of the Gretzky dynasty watching Hockey Night in Canada meant you could see a game, not a fight with some skating. I gave up watching hockey when there was more blood on the ice than the red line, and players began keeping track of penalty minutes like a badge of honour.

Trinidad & Tobago returned me to that time where the game was played out of passion — "for the love of the game", as they say. Hopefully this will be the case when England is the opponent — I certainly hope so. Oh well — at the half it is a scoreless tie. Enough already — I'm ending here.


brian said...

Did you see the Ghana-Czech game? I caught part of it after my exam... #48 Ghana beat #2 Czech Republic 2-0. Gotta love an underdog, especially one that a whole continent is cheering for.

Unknown said...

Yes - I saw the game, and even though my "dream final" is Argentina v. Ecuador, I was so pleased to see Ghana win - just as it was great to see T&T tie Sweden (how I wanted them to fell the UK!).

[begin channeling spirit of evil Aryan spirit]
Ah vell ... all zese non-vites playing as if zey have such superior genes ... ve may haw tu re-chek our findings on ze superiority of ze vite race. [end rant]

Sorry ... That just popped out ... :-)