Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

Consider a donation if you like what you see here!

Did you know?
We published The Runner's Body in May 2009. With an average 4.4/5 stars on Amazon.com, it has been receiving positive reviews from runners and non-runners alike.

Available for the Kindle and also in the traditional paper back. It will make a great gift for the runners you know, and helps support our work here on The Science of Sport.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

African running dominance - is there more to come?

We recently (11 May, Good read, check it out!) featured some stats on the African runners in the City Marathons, and Jonathan showed how in the Boston and New York Marathons, the Africans had not in fact moved the event forward. The winning times over the last 30 years have NOT improved and so the classic American & European runner's excuse of "We can't compete with the Africans" seems to have been discredited. However, there may be some among you who were wondering about this, because it's a slight departure from the classic perception of the Africans as a dominant force in long distance running. And that certainly is true, but not in the major city marathons. If you want to see just how the Africans have moved long distance running forward, you have to look at the world records, where the cry of despair from the non-Africans may actually have some validity!

So this article looks at the world records for the 5000m, 10 000m and Marathon events, an
d uses this to predict that the next generation of African runners who move up from track to marathon will move the event another notch forward.

First of all, the fact is that the Africans have moved the marathon forward much less than the track events, and this suggests to me that there is a still another explosion in times waiting to happen.
For example, the 5000 m world record in 1977 was 13:12, and it's now sitting at 12:37. That's an improvement of 35 seconds, which is equal to 4.5%. Incidentally, that performance from 1977 is now 972nd on the all time list of 5000 m performances.

Looking at the 10 000m event, the current world record of 26:17 by Keninisa Bekele is a full 1:13 faster than the world record of 1977. This represents a 4.4% improvement, quite similar to the improvement in the 5000 m distance.

However, when we look at the marathon, the world record in 1977 was 2:09.36, and so the current record of 2:04.55 is only 3.6% faster, and that's slightly lower than the 4.5% in the 5000 m event. But what's more interesting is that that performance from 1977 (which was actually run in 1969 by Derek Clayton) is still ranked 715th in the world today. So a time from 40 years ago has fallen only 714 places, whereas the 5000 m time that was being run 30 years ago has already dropped almost out of the top 1000 times ever. That means 200 fewer people have improved on a 40 year old time than on a 30 year old one.
One reason is that marathons are run less often than track races and so it might be expected that the depth of the times in the marathon would be less. Also, one might say that the Africans focus more on the track races and have a longer history, but that only adds to my speculation that in the future, the marathon record will again explode out of sight and hit 2:02. When it hits 2:02, then it will be roughly the same improvement as the 5000 m and 10000 m races have had over the same period, so that's my prediction for the future - they'll hit 2:02 when the next generation of track runners steps up. That group will likely be led by Bekele, Kiprop, and the Tanzanians, with a good few Kenyans thrown in as usual!

Finally, remember that in 1995, when Geb ran 26:43 for the 10k, he was the only guy going under 27. Now, there are about 10 a year, and the average is probably 26:40. So it's a matter of time before that depths gets to the track and they smash that marathon record again. My money says Lel breaks it next, and then the new generation takes over.

So exactly why do the Africans dominant running so much? We'll look at the physiological explanations for this dominance in upcoming posts, so join us for a look at this fascinating question. We probably don't know the answer yet, and scientists all over the world are asking the same question, but it makes for seriously interesting discussion.

See you soon!
Ross and Jonathan

Sunday, May 20, 2007

How much should I drink during exercise?

One of our great interests is fluid replacement during exercise. In fact, Jonathan got his PhD looking specifically at this question, and my own work included two studies on the effects of the heat on performance, so this is something of a life's work for both of us.

So in the coming weeks, we'll give substantial attention to this question. To begin with, the most basic question of all - "How much should I be drinking when I exercise?"

· The simple answer is to drink as much as your body tells you to!

· This issue is a controversial one and there is a great deal of conflicting information on it.

· However, what is undoubtedly true is that if you obey your thirst and drink only when thirsty, then you will be safe and it will not affect your performance at all.

· The only time that dehydration becomes a risk is when you have restricted access to fluids, and so for that reason, if it is a particularly hot day, plan your route so that you will be able to stop off and take in some fluid if you do feel that you need it.

· But you do NOT need to force yourself to drink every so often, rather listen to your body and you will be fine.

· In fact, the risks of drinking too much far outweigh the risks of not drinking enough – if you drink too much, you can develop a lethal condition known as hyponatremia, in which the sodium levels of the blood are decreased by excessive water intake. This condition has in fact led to more deaths than dehydration and so is far more dangerous than not drinking.

· Generally, there is a range of fluid intakes that you would find you take in if you listen to thirst. This range is between about 400 and 1000 ml per hour, depending on the conditions and your running speed.

· As far as performance goes, all the evidence suggests that when you are exercising outdoors and under normal conditions, performance is only affected when you become very thirsty.

· The discomfort of being very thirsty causes you to slow down and so should be avoided. Again, therefore, plan to have access to water or fluid should you need it.

Over the weeks, we'll look at this in more detail - why you don't need to drink as much as you may have been told, what the dangers of too much drinking are, and where that theory came from.

So join us for a series on the ins and outs of the science of drinking and dehydration

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Thanks for your support!

Thanks so much for your support of The Science of Sport, and for buying our book, The Runner's Body."  We really hope it helps with your training and racing.  Here's to many more years ahead of successful running!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Choosing your running speed - a question from research

Here is a question for all runners:

When you go out for an 8 km training run, how do you know how fast to go? And if I told you to head out for a 16 km training run, would you run at a different speed? And how would you know what that speed should be?

At first glance, these may seem to be a rather obvious questions, but once you begin to give them some serious consideration, they have quite profound implications for how you might think about the physiology of exercise. Here's another example: If you are about to start a 21 km race, the pace you set out at will be quite different compared to the pace you would start at in your weekly 5 km time-trial.

Well, you are thinking, that's obvious. Of course you would start out slower, because if you started both at the same speed, by the time you reached the 5 km mark of the 21 km race, you'd be exhausted. But what I'm really asking is how does your body know how fast you should go? And when does it decide what that speed is?

Perhaps it's easier to answer the second question first. You make the 'decision' of how fast to run (or cycle) within the first few seconds of exercise. By the time you've hit the pavement and reached the first corner, your body has already found its preferred running speed or cycling power output. We know from studies in laboratories that people settle on 'an ideal pace' right at the start, and it only changes marginally during exercise. Now that is nothing remarkable until you consider that all the great scientific minds, all the great exercise physiologist, CANNOT explain why this is the case.

What? You are thinking. Surely they know how your body chooses the speed it wants to go at. Well, the answer is a resounding NO! We know that it happens, because anyone can tell you that your 5 km pace is faster than your 21 km pace, but we don't really understand why.

All the theories we have for exercise physiology tell us that your ability to exercise and the way you regulate performance are the result of what we call 'feedback'. In otherwords, various changes in your body caused by exercise - your lungs, your heart, your muscles, your body temperature - all tell you either that you have to slow down, or that you should speed up. For example, it is often believed that a molecule called lactate forces you to slow down if its levels become too high. The theory is that if you started to quickly, your body's lactate levels would rise and impair your body's normal ability to exercise, and you would be forced to slow down. The same goes for body temperature - if you run too fast, you get too hot and have to slow down. Sounds reasonable enough, But then you remember that we've already described how you know what speed to run at within the first few seconds of exercise. That can't be explained by what we know of exercise physiology, because in these first few seconds, there are no differences! You are not hot, there is no lactate, nothing is wrong! Yet you slow down for a 21 km race, but not a 5 km race! And so if I tell you to run 5 km compared to 21 km, you choose a faster pace even though there is nothing different in your body at the start of exercise.

Of course, previous experience is important, and so you learn, with training, that you need to slow down in order to run 21 km. But that is only part of the answer. The full answer is far more complex than that - what does your body use to judge pace? What signals are taken into account to slow down or speed up?

These are the questions that are at the forefront of exercise physiology research. Much of the work has been driven from the University of Cape Town, where Professor Tim Noakes developed a theory of a Central Governor - an area of the brain that regulates exercise to make sure that we perform optimally without causing damage to the body. The term 'central governor' is perhaps a little outdated, but research continues to be done to answer these important questions. The latest research will look at how the very first seconds of exercise are crucial in determining how much muscle the brain activates. Susan Johnston, an Honours student at the University of Cape Town, will do a study in which cyclists will have to perform time-trials over four different distances - 5 km, 10 km, 40 km and 100 km, and will be measuring how much muscle is active in the first few seconds of the trials. It is expected that the brain will allow more muscle to be activated in the 5 km trials than the 100 km, but that overall, the same pattern will be present. This will show that the brain (or the governor) sets the pace using only the knowledge of the exercise distance, and not the physiological feedback, as we've always thought.

So a simple question does not, in fact, have a simple answer, and hopefully this study will help pave the way to understanding the processes in the future.

More studies are planned, and over the course of the next few weeks, we'll look at some scientific theories for how exercise performance is regulated or controlled.

Happy running

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cross Training for Runners

What is cross-training?

Cross training refers to any form of training that differs from running activity – it therefore includes gym training (resistance training), swimming, aerobics/taebo, spinning, rowing, elliptical training and cycling.

Cross training gained popularity with runners as a form of alternative training to reduce injury risk and improve overall whole body fitness. There is some rationale for believing that this may be true.

Cross Training to prevent injury?

The primary reason cross training is beneficial is an indirect one, because it allows the runner to manipulate the load on the normally used muscles and joints without necessarily compromising fitness and training status. In other words, they can obtain benefits from running at the same time as relieving the workload on those muscles and joints that running focuses on.

The risk of injury from excessive running is high specifically because these joints are chronically overloaded, and so cross training reduces the risk of injury simply as a result of the rest given to muscles and joints that are typically used for running. The alternative to cross training would be complete rest, but this begins to affect the fitness and cardiovascular status of the runner. Also, many runners feel compelled to exercise and so a complete rest day is seen as wasteful, meaning that cross training is the only practical alternative.

Cross training may also play a direct role in preventing injury, because the alternative forms of exercise recruit other muscles, which running may not necessarily activate. This develops overall, whole-body conditioning, and would, in theory reduce the risk of injury because weaknesses are eliminated. This effect is most pronounced when doing gym training that specifically focuses on muscle groups that running may neglect

Is cross training better than running?

The answer to this question is most likely no, in normal circumstances. If given a choice between a running session and an alternative session (swimming, cycling etc.), the running session is preferable from a performance point of view. The law of specificity applies here – specific training is needed to achieve a specific goal, so if the goal is better running, then running training is more effective.

However, in reality, this is often not as clear cut. For the reasons outlined above, you may be more susceptible to injury if no alternative forms of training are done. So in any situation, there are three choices:

1. Do a running session

2. Take a complete day off to rest and recover

3. Do cross training, which is essentially a compromise, because it allows muscles and joints to be rested, but not the whole body – there is still some stress on the body, which enables fitness to be maintained or even developed.

In order to make this choice, you need to ask the following questions:

1. Do I feel that I am in need of a rest day? Are there any signs of impending overtraining, injury, aches and pains, slight discomfort in muscles and joints that may indicate that a rest day or alternative day is needed?

2. If yes, then the next issue is whether the fatigue that is felt is indicative of localised or whole body fatigue?

If it’s whole body, as in general lethargy and sore muscles everywhere, aching joints all over, then a complete rest day is required, because even the cardiovascular responses to cross training will worsen the situation. If however the fatigue is local (stiff muscles from running), and there is a form of exercise that will not load that muscle, then cross training is a viable option.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Are the Africans really faster than the Americans?

In the 1980’s the first Kenyan runners began entering (and winning) marathons in the USA. The first to win a major city marathon was Jon Nzau at Chicago in 1983. Next was Ibrahim Hussein in 1987 at New York and Boston in 1988, and finally Douglas Wakiihuri won London in 1989.

In the 1990’s the Kenyans and their fellow East Africans seemed to win everywhere. Kenyan runners won Boston from 1991-2000, and five of the last six races. In Chicago they made it six of the past nine, while in New York East African runners have won seven of the last 10 races.

During this time period many in the USA began to speak of a decline in American running performance. The running boom of the late 1970’s produced legends like Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, and Dick Beardsley, all of whom won major city marathons and even set a few world records along the way. However the last Americans to win major marathons were Greg Meyer (Boston, 1983), Dick Beardsley (London, 1981), and Alberto Salazar (NYC, 1982). Since then the talk is always about how the Americans cannot run as fast as the Africans, and hence the Africans’ dominance of the marathon circuit.

But if we examine the winning times of the Boston and NYC Marathons, we see something very interesting. Namely, the average winning time has barely changed in the past 30 years. During this period the average winning time is 2:10:05 in NYC and 2:09:50 in Boston. In fact, Rodgers’ average winning time at Boston is 2:10:26, only 43 seconds slower than the average African winning time since 1991 (2:09:43).

In addition, both of these races have been dominated by numerous nationalities since their inceptions. While American runners won the first 13 NYC Marathons, nine different countries have won it since 1983. These include Italy (4), Mexico (4), and South Africa (2, although we should recall Hendrik Ramaala’s near miss in 2005 to Paul Tergat), and Kenya (8).

In Boston the story is similar. While the winner was American or Canadian from 1987-1944, since 1945 the race has been won numerous times by Finland (7), Japan (8), Korea (3), Great Britain, (3), and most recently, Kenya (16).

So the fact that an American runner has not won New York or Boston in many years appears to less likely due to talent and ability, and perhaps more likely a result of other factors that have decreased the number of talented athletes who choose running as a primary sport. In fact if we look at the history of marathon performances, numerous countries have dominated the racing scene, which seems to indicate some degree of parity amongst the competing countries.

Recently there have been some promising performances by Americans such as Meb Keflezhigi (silver medal in Ahtens) and Ryan Hall (2:08:24 in London for 7th overall). Perhaps performances such as these will excite a new generation of talented runners in much the same way the Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar did in the 1970’s and 1980’s. On the other hand, perhaps we (the non-Africans) just need more to learn how to beat the Africans?

Until the late 1990's the Americans absolutely dominated Olympic basketball. The USA regularly sent university athletes to the Olympics. By 1988, however, the rest of the world began to learn how to compete with, and beat these college kids---in Seoul the USA placed third behind the Soviets and the Yugoslavs. In Barcelona in 1992, the Americans sent their best pros to restore dominance, and the Dream Team I (1992) and Dream Team II) did just that, taking home gold in 1992 and 1996 and again in 2000. But this second honeymoon was relatively short lived, and by Athens 2004 the USA again had to settle for bronze. The rest of the world was watching all those years, and learning how to beat the USA. Now there is parity among international teams so that no single country dominated the others. . . yet.

So our prediction is that in time the Africans will meet their match on the road. Sporting performance is a dynamic phenomena, and is the result of a myriad of factors, only one of which is physiological and athletic ability. History, after all, has proven that we are all human.

Come back soon for the women’s and other marathon analyses!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Coaching corner - training advice for athletes

At the Science of Sport, it's our mission to provide practical, realistic, and cutting-edge information and knowledge on running and cycling training to you. We want to provide the very best tips and advice to help you improve and enjoy your running and cycling performance. Whatever your question or concern, we aim to address it!

So look out for our series of feature articles on training tips and techniques to make the most of your running, cycling, swimming and triathlon performances.

Some of the topics we will cover are:

  • Putting your training programme together
  • Concepts and principles behind training
  • How to integrate speed work and higher intensity training into the training programme
  • Diet and nutrition for optimal performance
  • Technology and your training - heart rate monitors, GPS, iPods, and other technological innovations and how you can make best use of these
  • How to avoid overdoing it - signs and symptoms of overtraining
  • Hill training, track workouts and tempo runs
  • Training injuries and common errors
  • The physiology behind running, cycling and swimming performance
  • Racing - tactics, strategies and approaches for success
  • Lessons from the labs - a scientific view of different types of training techniques and methods
We will aim to write at least 2 or 3 feature articles PER WEEK, where we describe anything and everything that will help you perform better, without injury! So be sure to check us out regularly for everything you could ever need to know!

Also, feel free to drop us an email and ask questions - our email address is sportsscientists@gmail.com

We look forward to having you along!!!!

Ross and Jonathan

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Shosholoza down but not out in Louis Vuitton Cup

Wednesday was a tough day for South African sailing enthusiasts. . .

Shosholoza faced the behemouth BMW Oracle in their first match race, but refused to be intimidated by the American boat's gargantuan budget and vastly experienced crew. Instead they started evenly and Shosholoza lead for over half the race, constantly putting pressure on the American boat to stay with them.

As they started the second lap of the race course, the boats split----one to the left, one to the right side of the course. No one could see who had the advantage, and all had to wait until they came back together to see which side of the course paid off. Unfortunately for Shosholoza, BWM Oracle nudged ahead during their split. . .and with the American's superior boat and racing experience, that was all they needed to hang on for the win.

In their second race against #2 Luna Rossa, Shosholoza never lead outright but stayed with the Italian boat all the way around the race course. They did not have speed to pull even and head, though, and finished just off the pace in what a solid showing by them.

It is tempting at this point to give in and congratulate Shosholoza on a job well done, and resign ourselves to the fact that they will not make the semi-finals. After all, they have far exceeded everyone's expectations of their performance. They have learned from all of their mistakes along the way, and proved that, even given an inferior boat compared to the larger syndicates, they can mix it up and dice for the win in any given race.

Wouldn't it be easy to finish the last few races with a couple of wins, end in the middle of the pack, take stock of a great campaign, and pack it in for the next America's Cup?

It would be easy. But we know a lot of these guys on the boat, and they are true competitors and will continue to fight for every point. Their work is cut out for them, and as usual they have left little room for error. However a spot in the semis is not out of the question yet.

Based on the current standings, Shosholoza must score at least four more wins to even think about the semis, but they are still to race against three of the bottom feeders and the remaining middle competitors.

Listen to the live race radio here---racing is scheduled to start mid-afternoon in Spain.

Good luck Shosholoza!

Ku lezontaba
Stimela si qhamuka
Wen u ya baleka
Wen u ya baleka
Ku lezontaba
Stimela si qhamuka

Training programmes - the key principle of overload

Are you in a situation where you have been training dilligently for a while now, but have stopped seeing results? Perhaps you are new to this training thing and you haven't really got much idea of how to go about constructing your training programme? Or you find that as soon as you try to do any big distance or speed work, you break down injured? Well, then, read on....

A famous legend has it that Milo the Greek developed his super-human strength by lifting a young calf while he was still a young shepherd boy. Over time, as the calf grew into a bull, he continued to lift it, the result being that his strength increased in proportion to the size and mass of the bull he was lifting. This story is often quoted to illustrate what is perhaps the most important and foundational principle behind developing a successful training programme - the PRINCIPLE OF OVERLOAD.
Basically, this principle states that in order to see progressive gains (in this case, running or cycling faster), you need to progressively increase the load (distance or speed of running or riding). However, in order to fully understand the principle, a basic knowledge of physiology is required, because it's not as simple as just running a little further every day! If this was true, you could add 500 m to your daily running distance and in a year's time, you'd be running 180 km non-stop!!!. Obviously, this is unrealistic, and the reason it doesn't work is because it does not take into account the fact that you have to RECOVER as well, which is principle number 2.

So in order to make sense of these training principles, it's important to understand a famous principle from biology, which explains why you get injured, overtraining, burned out and also why you can, if you are wise, improve performance. This is the Selye Adaptation Principle.

The Selye Adaptation principle

The Selye General Adaptation Principle states that when an organism (you) is placed under stress, it undergoes a typical or characteristic reaction to that stress, which ultimately results in adaptation and possibly failure if the stressor is prolonged or severe enough. In the case of training for running, all training bouts are perceived by the body as stress, and the key is to ensure that the stress produces positive changes, without ever reaching the point of failure or exhaustion. The stages are:

Alarm reaction

Occurs immediately after the stress is perceived. During this stage, your performance will be impaired as the stress must be responded to. So if you've ever noticed that soon after starting to train, you find that you just seem to be getting worse and worse...this is the reason. More specifically, this is why immediately after a session, or even up to two or three days after certain sessions, performance is impaired and the athlete will feel that the training is making them worse, rather then better. It's also the reason why resting and recovering as so vital - your body is dealing with the training, and anything you can do to help it is of course, very welcome!

Period of adaptation

This follows the alarm reaction and will occur only if the stress is ‘manageable’. That is, you must be able to adapt and recover sufficiently from one training session to the next. This is the reason that the severity of training must be altered, and is the major reason why rest days and easy days are essential in any training programme. The period of adaptation is what we are all aspiring to achieve, and requires a sustained period of training and recovery. We'll cover these tricks of the trade in future posts.

This period occurs because your body has responded maximally to the stress and no further improvements in performance are possible. Most training programmes will end here, or a new stimulus is required, otherwise you can gradually worsen and eventually fail. If the programme has worked successfully, your racing season or your goal race will occur right at the start of the plateau phase, and will be followed by a period of inactivity and a new training programme, designed to push the athlete beyond the plateau. This is a dangerous period, because it precedes the stage of failure or distress. Performance stops improving and the temptation is often to train harder or faster, and this means that the stressor is increased, which actually pushes the body into the alarm stage, and only serves to worsen performance further. So begins a cycle of deteriorating performance.

Failure or distress stage

This stage occurs if the stressor is not managed appropriately, with the result that you cannot continue to adapt and respond to it. Performance then deteriorates rapidly and you become sick or overtrained or injured. This happens when there is insufficient rest and the severity of the training stress (distance and intensity and frequency) are not managed intelligently, as described previously. This is also something we'll cover in detail in the future - how do you put together the programme to minimize this risk?

The goal of a training programme is, as described, to ensure that this stage is never reached, but rather that you recover sufficiently for the training stress to be altered to cause what is known as a rebound, where performance improves rather than worsens.

Applying this to YOUR training

The simple take home message from this, is that if you want to get faster, then you must run faster than your currently ‘comfortably manageable’ speed. Similarly, if you want to improve endurance, you must constantly aim to run further than you have previously done in your training. But it's just as critical to realise that you also need rest, otherwise you will very quickly enter the "FAILURE STAGE", and end up burned out, injured and overtrained.

In future articles, we'll cover the specifics of how to achieve this - how much rest is needed, when is training too extreme, and other tricks that you can use to make the most of your training time!
Join us then!
Ross and Jonathan

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Australia - cricket's first dynasty?

In America we seem to be obsessed with the concept of sporting dynasties. As soon as a team wins a couple of championships, or does well in the post-season, the whispers and murmurs begin. For a true example of how much we talk about this here, just search for "sports dynasty" on Wikipedia!

All the professional and collegiate level sports in the USA have their dynasties---even collegiate cheerleading, although we challenge anyone to name the school who has won 15 championships between 1985-2006. The more well known dynasties, the ones that even sports fans seem to know, include the NFL's San Francisco '49ers who in the 1980's won four Superbowls in nine years; the Los Angeles who won five NBA titles between 1979-1991; and Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls of the 1990's who won an incredible six NBA titles in eight seasons and have the best single season record ever at 72-10.

The concept of a sports dynasty has not yet extended to cricket, though if it did, the Australian test and one-day cricket team of the 1990's and 2000's would surely qualify. Since 1999, they have not lost a world cup match, a streak that has brought three consecutive world titles. They have also won the Champions Trophy, defeated every single Test playing nation at least twice, won an amazing 68% of test matches (losing only 16%), and have suffered only 4 series defeats out of 40 test match series. Incidentally, South Africa are next best since 1997, winning 47% of test matches, while losing 27%. That is dominance in anybody's book.

So what makes a dynasty, then? Perhaps the simplest explanation is that a dynasty is the result of bringing a number of right individuals to the same place at the right time. Team presidents, coaches, assistant coaches, and players all converge at the same time to produce a number of winning seasons and championship success.

Another way to explain sporting dynasties is that they are a function of the coach. The best example of this is Phil Jackson, who coached the Bulls of the 1990's to their remarkable run of wins, and then went on to coach the Los Angeles Lakers to another three NBA titles from 1999-2004. Admittedly, Jackson coached a player who many consider the greatest player in the history of the NBA (Michael Jordan) and an all-star supporting cast while guiding the Bulls, and went on to coach another (at least) two future Hall of Famers with the Lakers (Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant). However it must be said that it is no small feat to continue winning at any level, and to continue to coach players to their full potential.

So is the Australian dynasty really a function of their coach? Probably not, since in cricket the role of the coach is diminished compared to other sports. While the coach has an important role to play (think Bob Woolmer and SA cricket in the late 1990's, and Alex Ferguson with Manchester United), the specifics of his role are determined by the particularly dynamic that exists within the team at the time of his reign. This is particularly apparent in South African cricket, where we seem to have had a series of coaches who have effectively been relegated to the role of training assistants under the influence of an overly-dominant captain, first with Hansie Cronje, then with Graeme Smith (just ask Ray Jennings).

Nor has the Australian cricket team achieved their success with the same core of players. Only three of the players who lost in the final against Sri Lanka in 1996 played in the World Cup triumph against Sri Lanka on Saturday. Having said that, those three players are among the greatest the game has seen - Glenn Mcgrath, Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting will go down in history as all-time greats, much like Michael Jordan and Shaq will do for basketball, and Babe Ruth and Roger Maris in baseball.

Therefore perhaps the real dynasty behind the success of this sporting program lies in the halls of its training institutions and not on its fields. Perhaps these sporting dynasties have managed to attract the right combination of individuals on a regular basis so that their production of top players and coaches has remained high and constant for the past 10-15 years.

The most startling of all outcomes from the world cup has been the difference between Australia and South Africa's reactions to their performances. One team has gone on record saying that there is no problem, the world cup was a great success and they look forward to implementing lessons learned, further saying that we do not need a drastic change in personnel or structures. The other has begun planning for the next World Cup, announcing a squad of players who have been awarded contracts, including 4 completely new names to the international fold. The great irony is that the team who is planning is Australia, while South Africa, who managed to win only 4 out of 7 games against test-playing nations, is under the impression that things are on course and we are a coin-toss or a lucky break away from being as good as Australia.

Three weeks before the World Cup, Australia announced that Tim Nielsen would be taking over from John Buchanan as the coach of Australia after the tournament. Clearly, Nielsen would be stepping into some large shoes, but he's also had the support and backing of an administration that has learned the rather rare and unique trick of learing from their success. In South Africa, we seem to struggle to learn from our failures. And that is one reason why we will never become a great sporting dynasty, the mentality of South Africans to circle the ox-wagons and put up their defences will prevent us from ever moving forward.

So what makes a great sporting dynasty? Foresight, and the ability to plan, strategize and implement those ideas. And key to this is identifying and then training up the right people to fill the right jobs. As has been discussed on this site, the training of coaches is crucial to a country's sporting success, and so perhaps one final way to explain sports dynasties is by examining those individuals who do the work behind the scenes, the coach, his support staff and the administration.

For a great read about the type of person it takes to build a sports dynasty, check out this article about Red Auerbach, the architect of nine straight NBA titles with the Boston Celtics.

Coaching corner - our mission

At the Science of Sport, it's our mission to provide practical, realistic, and cutting-edge information and knowledge on running and cycling training to you. We want to provide the very best tips and advice to help you improve and enjoy your running and cycling performance. Whatever your question or concern, we aim to address it!

So look out for our series of feature articles on training tips and techniques to make the most of your running, cycling, swimming and triathlon performances.

Some of the topics we will cover are:

  • Putting your training programme together
  • Concepts and principles behind training
  • How to integrate speed work and higher intensity training into the training programme
  • Diet and nutrition for optimal performance
  • Technology and your training - heart rate monitors, GPS, iPods, and other technological innovations and how you can make best use of these
  • How to avoid overdoing it - signs and symptoms of overtraining
  • Hill training, track workouts and tempo runs
  • Training injuries and common errors
  • The physiology behind running, cycling and swimming performance
  • Racing - tactics, strategies and approaches for success
  • Lessons from the labs - a scientific view of different types of training techniques and methods
We will aim to write at least 2 or 3 feature articles PER WEEK, where we describe anything and everything that will help you perform better, without injury! So be sure to check us out regularly for everything you could ever need to know!

Also, feel free to drop us an email and ask questions - our email address is sportsscientists@gmail.com

We look forward to having you along!!!!

Ross and Jonathan