With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics expected to be one of the hottest on record, physiologist Lindsay Golich is helping Athletes prepare, including track cyclist Jennifer Valente. Golich uses the High Altitude Training Center (HATC) at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, a room where the temperature, altitude and humidity can be controlled to mimic any competition venue in the world. “Changing the Games” is a 10-part video series produced in collaboration with Lyda Hill Philanthropies.
Changing the Games – Track Cycling in Extreme Heat
KATHRYN TAPPEN reporting:
For the U.S. women's track cycling team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the heat of competition was on.
ANNOUNCER 1: They've gone through their first 1000 meters.
ANNOUNCER 2: So they're on world record pace right now.
TAPPEN: The U.S. brought home a silver medal in the team pursuit, and for cyclist Jennifer Valente, it was a moment she'll never forget.
JENNIFER VALENTE (Olympic Silver Medalist): It was like, oh my gosh, we've just medaled at the Olympics and kind of a new wave of realization of being an Olympian.
TAPPEN: Track cycling is not for the faint of heart, but a blood-pumping endurance sport that takes place in an indoor venue called a velodrome.
VALENTE: It's very fast racing. A lot of times, it's very warm inside and not much air flow.
TAPPEN: Although they race indoors, Valente and her teammates are preparing to sweat big time in Tokyo as the external temperatures could rise well over 100 degrees, driving the temperatures inside to levels that will severely test the endurance of the athletes. Heat and humidity are part of any summer Olympic Games, but the extreme heat expected in Tokyo requires special training and preparation.
VALENTE: Each event that we race on the velodrome has a little bit different demands as far as heat management and how much the climate and the conditions of the day or the venue play into that role. Whether or not there was a storm or it had been raining or the air pressure and the air density changes decisions that we make before the race and then decisions that you make in the race.
LINDSAY GOLICH (U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee): Tokyo has the potential to be one of the hottest Olympics that we've had to date, really, in quite a while. We can hit extreme temperatures of maybe up to one hundred and ten degrees throughout the day, as well as anywhere between 80% to 85%, maybe even 90% humidity. And so, that makes the heat index really extreme.
TAPPEN: Lindsay Golich, a physiologist for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, uses high tech equipment designed to maximize performance in extreme heat. Like preparing astronauts to walk in zero gravity, Golich uses a chamber that simulates the conditions in the velodrome. It's called the High Altitude Training Center, or HATC, a 900-square-foot room where she can control the altitude, humidity and temperature with the push of a button.
GOLICH: We can change the altitude. So, we can go to sea level and we can go really high, up to about 21,000 to 22,000 feet. We can also change the temperature. So, we can go to just about 0 degrees Fahrenheit up to about one hundred fifteen degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity. So, we can get down to single digits and also 100% humidity. So, the goal there is that we can match any training and competition environment throughout the world.
TAPPEN: Because the HATC is located in Colorado Springs at an altitude of about 6000 feet with less oxygen to breathe, Golich brings the altitude down to sea level to mimic Tokyo's elevation as a coastal city.
GOLICH: The goal for us is to produce more red blood cells and the red blood cells is what carries more oxygen to the working muscles.
VALENTE: Having the resource of the HATC is a huge advantage. Our training is done inside there at sea level with more oxygen so that we're able to go harder and more replicate what an event would be like at sea level.
TAPPEN: One of Golich's goals of training athletes in the HATC is to find their point of a failure - or heat threshold - which will ultimately impair their performance. She does this by monitoring an athlete's core body temperature using a pill that is swallowed two or three hours before a training session or a race.
GOLICH: It's transmitting their internal core temperature. So, we can see how hot an athlete is running based upon the intensity or the duration of effort that they're doing. And my goal as a physiologist is to monitor that and assess if we need an intervention. And an intervention could be as simple as drinking a cool glass of water. It might be putting a cold ice towel around your neck.
TAPPEN: Having a better understanding of an athlete's core temperature threshold helps Golich understand how she can help delay the onset of complete exhaustion to achieve an athlete's best performance.
GOLICH: If we can delay it by a minute, two minutes or even five minutes in the course of a race, that might mean a big difference of a medal or coming in 15th.
VALENTE: We push ourselves to the limit every day in training and people like Lindsay are able to look at that data and have a pretty good idea of what each person is capable of and how that fits together in a team to have the best results
TAPPEN: Science and technology helping team USA stay on track to go for the gold.
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