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‘A Huge Issue’: Some Swimmers May Have Gotten an Unfair Advantage at the Rio Olympics Due to Mysterious Lane Bias



A few years ago, researchers from Indiana University discovered a disturbing pattern at the 2013 Swimming World Championships in Barcelona. According to the lap-time data, athletes assigned to the outer lanes of the pool were consistently swimming faster in one direction than the other.

A mysterious force seemed to be interfering with the competition. But before the researchers could investigate in person, the pool — a temporary facility constructed just for that event — was torn down.

The same strange problem cropped up at the Rio Olympics, and nobody can explain why.

Two independent statistical analyses show discrepancies large enough to cast doubt on the results of some races. The problem may have even cost swimmers medals.

Indiana University researchers Andrew Cornett, Christopher Brammer and Joel Stager tracked the lap time discrepancies in the Rio pool using data from the longer-distance races. Since competitors in those events make several laps back and forth along the 50-metre-long pool, the researchers could compare swimmers against themselves.

In Rio, athletes in the middle lanes were relatively unaffected. But on the lower-numbered side of the pool, competitors were about 0.4 seconds faster swimming away from the starting blocks.

The higher-numbered side of the pool suffered from the opposite problem. Swimmers were about 0.2 seconds slower in their outgoing laps compared to their return laps. (In all of this, the researchers ignored the first and last laps because those are strategic parts of the race.)

To understand the pattern of lane bias, consider the example of Norwegian swimmer Henrik Christiansen. In his preliminary heat for the 1500-metre race, Christiansen was assigned to Lane 2. In that race, his outgoing laps were 0.28 seconds faster than his incoming laps, on average.

When Christiansen made it through to the final, he was assigned to the other side of the pool. In Lane 8, Christiansen swam a completely different race. His outgoing laps were slower than his incoming laps.

Could this have cost someone the gold?

Because most Olympic events require athletes to swim an even number of laps, the effects of any currents in the water should have somewhat canceled out. Those who got a boost swimming in one direction would have to fight the same force when they turned around.

The one exception is the 50-metre freestyle, which only covers a single length of the pool.

Barry Revzin, a data analyst based in Chicago who used to swim competitively at MIT, found compelling evidence of the lane effect by comparing swimmers’ times as they rose through the heats and semi-finals. He took advantage of the fact that athletes were typically assigned different lanes as they progressed through the competition.

On average, Revzin found that swimmers raced faster when they moved to higher-numbered lanes, and slower when they moved to lower-numbered lanes.

By Revzin’s estimates, shifting two lanes to the right in the Rio pool would have given a swimmer a boost of about 1 centimetre per second. In a 50-metre freestyle race at Olympic pace, that translates to a difference of about one-tenth of a second.

As Revzin notes, this is a significant difference. In both the men’s and the women’s 50-metre freestyle, the top three finishers were separated by less than one-tenth of second. We’ll never know for sure, but the evidence raises questions about what would have happened if people had gotten different lane assignments.

For instance, the women’s bronze medalist, Belarus’s Aliaksandra Herasimenia clocked 24.11 seconds. She beat out defending gold medalist Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands, who clocked a 24.19. But Herasimenia swam in Lane 8, which the data suggest was the fastest lane. Kromowidjojo swam in Lane 3.

The Indiana University researchers’ data led them to a similar finding: The highest-numbered lanes in Rio, they determined, may have given the 50-metre swimmers a boost of up to 1 percent relative to the middle lanes. The lowest-numbered lanes may have slowed them down by up to 1 percent.

Revzin, who calls himself a “huge swimming fan,” said he was deeply disappointed when he noticed the discrepancies.

“Sadness was the main emotion,” he said. “This is not the kind of thing you want to see in the biggest competition in your sport,” he said.

This is not an isolated event

Because swimming races can be won by fractions of a second, pools must meet fairly exacting standards. The International Swimming Federation, known as FINA, writes the rules. On matter of currents in the water, though, FINA is a little vague. The official regulations say that “in order to observe health regulations in force in most countries, inflow and outflow is permissible as long as no appreciable current or turbulence is created.”

Both the pools in Rio and Barcelona were constructed by Myrtha Pools, an Italian company with extensive experience. According to a statement from FINA, Myrtha Pools told the officials that “no current was detected in the Olympic Aquatics Stadium pool, at any stage of the competitions.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment, but two weeks ago, President Trevor Tiffany provided the swimming website SwimSwam with videos showing test objects floating motionlessly on the surface of the Rio pool.

“All I can say is we tested the pool both before the event and after Day 3 of the swimming with zero hint of a problem,” he said, according to SwimSwam.

Joel Stager, the Indiana University professor, was skeptical.

“This is a company with millions of dollars in assets and engineers and hydrologists, and they’re going to float a jug?” Stager said. “I know this is not my area of expertise, but I know it’s not as simple as dropping a plastic jug into the pool.”

Tiffany also suggested that different breathing patterns may have affected the competition. In the outer lanes, people who breathe only to one side might have a harder time seeing the competition on odd or even laps. But that doesn’t explain why these lane biases have only shown up intermittently, at certain swimming competitions, but not others.

In a recent study, Stager and his colleagues showed that lane bias has shown up before in major international competitions — typically in temporary pools like the one in Barcelona. The researchers believe that the construction process might make temporary pools more prone to currents.

It’s also possible that the problem lies elsewhere. Timothy Wei, a professor of engineering at the University of Nebraska who has studied the fluid dynamics of competitive swimming, suggested recently that the problem may have to do with the rigidity of the pool walls.

Since temporary pools are typically constructed above ground, their walls might flex more and cause asymmetric waves that impede swimmers in the outside lanes, he explained in a phone call.

Right now, it’s hard to predict when these irregularities will surface. There was no evidence of lane bias, for instance, in the temporary pool that Myrtha built for the 2015 FINA World Championships, according to Revzin’s analysis.

But Revzin says the apparent lane bias at the Rio facility could have been caught earlier, because it was already evident in April, at an Olympic test event with Brazilian swimmers.

FINA notes that no one has found physical proof that implicates the Rio pool. The patterns documented by Revzin and the Indiana University researchers were “made on the basis of mathematical analysis, without taking into account any scientific evidence in the actual pool constructed for these Games,” a FINA representative said in an e-mail.

But it’s clear that these patterns in the swim times were not flukes. The data overwhelmingly show that something unusual happened at the Rio Olympics, just as something unusual happened at the 2013 World Championships.

Brammer, one of the Indiana University researchers, said that all he wants is for officials to take the problem seriously.

“It’s affecting these athletes’ lives,” he said in a phone interview. “For some of them, this is their livelihood, and the Olympic Games are it. That’s their pinnacle. For them to be cheated — that’s a huge issue.”

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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