30 December 2011

The Anti-Title Game

Did you see last night's Baylor win over Washington in the Valero Alamo Bowl?  Click here for the box score.  Some may hate an LSU/Alabama game for its lack of offense.  Last night's Washington/Baylor game was the antithesis of an LSU/Alabama game.  Maybe it was more fun, but after awhile the game just got silly.  I actually wondered if it would have mattered if I had suited up and played corner for Baylor or linebacker for Washington?

Imagine the following.  You go up to Steve Sarkisian, Washington's head coach, before the game and offer him a deal.  You ask him if he would like to play the game or take the scenario described next.  Washington will amass 620 yards of total offense, go 9 for 16 on 3rd-down conversions and 3 for 4 on 4th-down conversions, commit just one penalty to Baylor's eight penalties, and score 56 points in a regulation game.  Do Sarkisian's eyes bug out while he takes the scenario and gambles that what I described would win the game?

If Sarkisian takes the nutty scenario, you then have to tell him that his team lost by 11 points and that Baylor had 157 yards more offense!  That's right, 123 total points and 1397 yards in total offense in a regulation game -- a tad better than a safety per minute in scoring and nearly 80% of a mile in total offense.  Can you even do that in a video game?

17 December 2011


I love college sports, especially football and basketball.  Taking degrees from Vanderbilt and Indiana gave me the opportunity to experience some fantastic basketball moments.  My first year at Vandy was Barry Goheen's senior year.  What a shot to beat Georgia that year!  My first year at Indiana was Calbert Cheaney's senior year and Bob Knight's last truly great team (if not for Alan Henderson's knee, we win the title in 1993).

College football was not stressed as much as basketball at my schools, but I loved watching SEC and Big Ten teams play my schools.  We actually beat Florida in my freshman year -- our 3rd and final win of the year.  I saw Penn State's great 1994 team play at Indiana (Ki-Jana Carter ran for 192 yards that day -- 80 on his last carry).  In my last year at Indiana, I saw Ron Dayne run all over us (130 yards in beating us 24-20) the year before his Heisman Trophy season.

As much as I love college football, I'm bothered by the way the champion is determined -- and I'm not alone!  There are cries for a playoff, or, at the very least, a "plus one" to determine the champion.  What is the purpose of a playoff?  Does it determine the year's best team, or the best team at the end of the year?  Nobody will argue with the fact that LSU had the best season this year.  No other team is in the discussion.  Why not call LSU the champion this year?

We don't call LSU the champion because not every year sees just one team as the regular-season standout.  Last year, Auburn and Oregon both had a claim for the top spot, and it's really unfair of me to leave TCU out of the discussion.  Because we usually don't get a single team that's a clear regular-season winner, we need a bowl game or playoff to decide the champion on the field.

A "plus one" idea does not work for me.  Four teams as national semifinalists are not enough.  Each team picked is just one win from the title game.  My question is this:  who gets the #4 slot this year if we had a "plus one" system?  There is debate this year over who plays LSU for the title, but that debate has been limited to two teams (Alabama and Oklahoma State).

Imagine if we had a "plus one" in which the four semifinalists were chosen before the bowls (some have the idea of choosing two teams after the bowls, but that seems strange to me -- more on that in a moment).  LSU, Alabama, and Oklahoma State get the top three spots.  For the #4 spot, do we pick the BCS #4 Stanford?  Oregon will have a good argument as Pac-12 champs (and 23-point victory over Stanford) for a spot ahead of Stanford.  Arkansas (better two losses than Oregon's two losses), Boise State (one loss by one point to BCS #18 TCU), and Kansas State (two losses in this year's best conference) have cases, too.  Even Big Ten champ Wisconsin and one-loss Houston might make noise, though their cases are not as good.  One team (Oklahoma State) feels like it got left out of the title game.  Imagine the complaining if we had a "plus one" system this year.

I mentioned picking two teams after the bowls as a strange way to do a "plus one" system.  Why?  What if Alabama beats LSU in a close game?  Do voters pick those two teams to play a THIRD time?  If LSU wins, and Oregon and Stanford win their bowl games, who plays LSU in the "plus one after the bowls" system?

For a playoff, four teams are not enough.  Picking four means picking teams that are one win away from the title game.  There are more than four teams that have cases this year for the four slots (and probably in most other years, too).  With eight teams, there is no worry of leaving out the best team, even if there is an argument for the last slot.  Sixteen is too many for 120 schools playing 12-13 games.  With eight teams, a title-game school will have to play three playoff games, about the length of a quarter of the regular season.  Use the BCS, or some other system, to seed eight teams in the four big bowls.  Play the other bowls as usual.  As a Vandy alum, I'm happy that my 6-6 team gets to play in the Liberty Bowl this year.  Once the bowls are done, we have a Final Four in college football.  Little schools and schools with no big football aspirations (like my school) are happy with their little bowls; football powers decide the champ on the field; and, money would flow with a Final Four and three more games.

I've had this idea since the BCS came into existence.  This is the first time I've written it down publicly.  There are 70 teams playing in the 35 bowl games this year.  That means that 58.3% of all FBS schools are in bowl games, including a team with a losing record (6-7 UCLA).  There are 13 schools (like Vandy) with 6-6 records.  Clearly, the bowls are not for picking champions when 20% (14 of 70) of the teams don't even have winning records.  But, imagine the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange Bowls used for the top eight schools.  How great would a Final Four in college football be after bowl season is finished?

College football could have its cake and eat it, too.  The pageantry of bowl season would be preserved, and the champion would be decided on the field.  With eight teams, nobody would ever claim the champion was left out of the title shot.

10 December 2011

Indiana takes down #1!!!

Indiana University beat the #1-ranked University of Kentucky in college basketball today by the score of 73-72.  Click here if you are interested in the story.  I'm not writing this post to reveal keen insights into the physics behind any special play.  This post is not about physics.  This post is about screaming your head off when your alma mater does something wonderful.  When Christian Watford's three-pointer went in as time expired, I jumped for joy and screamed for as long as my lungs would let me.

That's what college sports give you.  My alma maters (Vanderbilt University was my undergraduate school; Indiana University was my graduate school) permeate my life, especially in basketball season.  Unlike a professional team, a person's alma mater is a part of himself or herself in a personal and emotional way.  I loved seeing my fellow Hoosiers storm the court.  I loved seeing Tom Crean get his biggest win at Indiana.  We love our schools through good times and bad times.  We suffer the pain of each loss; our days are made with each win.  Watford's shot definitely made my day!

Physics will have to wait for another time.  Sports are meant to be savored first for those "I can't believe what I just saw!" moments.  I'll think about physics later.  For now, it's GO HOOSIERS!!!

06 December 2011

Tim Tebow and Sidearm Deliveries

I analyzed Tim Tebow's sidearm delivery and how it influences the range of his long passes.  This was done at the request of YAHOO! SPORTS.  Click here for the link to the article by Kristian Dyer.

05 December 2011

My dog loves soccer!

A traditional 32-panel soccer ball (association football) has 20 regular hexagonal faces and 12 regular pentagonal faces.  Because the faces are stitched together and the surface must hold a latex bladder that contains air above atmospheric pressure, the 32 geometrical faces are not flat.  They are curved outward a little, which is why a soccer ball is not the same thing as a truncated icosahedron, which is one of the 13 Archimedean solids loved by mathematicians and a few physicists (like me!).

The stitched faces that curve outward also serve another purpose, one completely new to me until just a few days ago.  The faces allow just enough gripping space for a dog to hold.  Click here for a YouTube video of my dog playing soccer.  At the very beginning of the video, you'll see my dog carrying the ball in her teeth.  I never thought a dog that size could carry a soccer ball!  The spacing of the pentagons and hexagons is just enough to allow my dog to sink her teeth into the gaps and hold the ball.

Later in the video, you will see my dog pushing the ball along with her nose.  My older daughter is trying to coax our dog into playing.  I've been happy that my daughters show an interest in learning soccer.  Now I know that my dog has an itch for the beautiful game as well!

22 November 2011

Science and what we need to know ...

The late George Carlin was one of my favorite comics.  His observation about how we view people who drive either faster or slower than we drive is fantastic (click here for a video clip).  Basically, those who drive slower than us are "idiots," and those who drive faster than us are "maniacs."  What's great about Carlin's observation is that those labels for "other" people are relative to a given person driving a car.  In other words, each of us sets his or her "standard" for something, and then we perceive the different "standards" of other people as strange, annoying, bizarre, perplexing, etc.  Essentially any difference we meet in another person is subject to criticism, scorn, laughter, or any other response that suggests that we are bothered in some way by the difference.  Racism, homophobia, and other forms of hate are born of this idea.  Think about this idea in terms of how a person holding certain religious beliefs views others who hold different religious beliefs.  Carlin's observation applies to much more than driving.

Apply Carlin's idea to what people know and what people "should" know.  What is "common knowledge," and who defines it?  Should a person in a given country know the current president of that country?  What about the number of hours in a day?  What about the time needed for the Earth to make one complete trip around the sun?  Should a person know at least one Biblical story?  What about a story from the Quran?  Should people know world capitals?  What about dates of the two world wars?  Should people be able to speak intelligently about Darwin's theory of natural selection?  What about Einstein's theories of special and general relativities?  Should people know about entropy and the second law of thermodynamics?  Is the name of at least one play by Shakespeare something a person should know?  What about a play by Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo?  Are Newton's laws of motion to be considered as "common knowledge" or only for those erudite few?  Should a person be able to say something intelligent about Kant's categorical imperative?  Given the world's financial problems in recent years, should a person be able to say something of substance about Keynesian economics?

I could obviously go on.  My question to you is how many of the questions in the previous paragraph do you answer, "Of course someone should know that!" and how many do you answer "That's a bit too esoteric for common knowledge!"?  Did you ever learn something in grade school, find out a friend didn't know that thing you just learned, and then tease your friend for not knowing it?  Maybe you said, "I can't believe you don't know that!" or perhaps, "Yeah, everyone knows that!"  I believe we all like to think we know enough not be on the end of someone asking us, "You don't know that?"  Do we apply Carlin's comedy to knowledge?  Do we think those who know less than us to be "idiots" and those who know more to be "know-it-alls" or "show offs"?

Each of us surely draws his or her own line through what's knowable, one side being the "everyone should know that" side and the other being the "we can get by without knowing that" side.  Because everyone puts the line through knowledge in different places, it's a challenge for a government to set any kind of educational standard that will make most people happy.

I love discussions on "what should be known" outside the sciences.  Because this is a blog devoted mostly to sports science, however, let me stick with science.  I have met people who believe that the Earth takes a month to orbit the sun.  I have met people, two who actually teach science in high schools, who think that the phases of the moon are due to the Earth's shadow on the moon.  I have met people who think that summer and winter are explained by the "fact" that the Earth is closer to the sun in summer and farther away in winter.  On this last item, I asked one of those people how it is that we in the US are enjoying summer while someone in, say, Australia is enjoying winter.  On the issue of the moon's phases, I remember pointing to the moon and the sun, which happen to be visible at the same time, to someone of the "Earth's shadow" belief.  When I first talked about moon's phases to my young daughters, I used a basketball, a ping pong ball, and a flashlight.  That's all it takes to dispel the "Earth's shadow" idea.

Regarding the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun, ask yourself the following question.  How often in your daily life, or entire life, for that matter, do you actually need to make use of the fact that the Earth orbits the sun in one year?  I've used that fact in calculations I've done, but I suspect most people never actually need to use that fact in any practical application.  People can go through an entire fulfilling lifetime without ever putting that fact to use.  So, should people know how long it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun, at least to the nearest day?  Is that "fact" on your "everyone should know that" side or your "that's not really necessary to know" side?

Am I crazy to even ask the question that ends the previous paragraph?  There is a nontrivial number of people who don't know how long it takes Earth to go around the sun or why we have summer and winter.  Is it haughty to think of those people as "idiots," or is there not such a cause for alarm?

I suppose I have my own idea of "what people should know" when it comes to science.  My list is not important.  What is important is why people should know some facts that science provides.  Note that science seeks truth about how the natural world works.  We in science "seek" truth, even if we never attain "absolute" truth because of experimental uncertainty.  There are many "facts" that we believe to be "true" because of all the data and evidence acquired to support those "facts."  Recent experiments that suggest a certain type of neutrino might be traveling faster than light remind us that our models of the world can always be challenged and perhaps changed.  That's okay!  We in science relish the opportunity to gain deeper understanding of how the universe actually works, even if means giving up a previously-held "fact."  Science is about seeking knowledge through the accumulation of data and evidence, and testing models put forth to explain how the universe works.  Science is NOT a belief system like, for example, one's religious beliefs.  We do not believe in how long it takes the Earth to orbit the sun, we know how long it takes within the uncertainties of measurement.

Understanding how science works is the basis for the "why" in why I think people should know some scientific facts.  If people know, for example, that the Earth takes a year to orbit the sun, and they know that "fact" because they understand how scientists came to define a "year" and how measurements are used to give us the "numbers" we use as "facts," they are far better off than simply believing in what a year is.  Through an understanding of how science goes about its business, people are more likely to think critically about what science has to say on issues like energy usage, global warming, nuclear weapons, and so forth.  We can appreciate how difficult the science associated with, say, global warming is, and what kinds of error bars there are.  We can see data on that issue and begin to make political choices.  There is no need to "believe" in global warming; there is, however, a need to understand how science in that field is done, even if we don't understand all the details.

Teaching sports physics allows me the opportunity to replace myths ("hanging in the air," "curve balls that drop off the table," etc.) with scientific understanding.  I find much more elegance and beauty in what is real than I do in fantastical myths used to "explain" phenomena.  Baseballs curve through the air because of an asymmetrical separation in the boundary layer of air around the balls.  That's much cooler to me than thinking of balls falling off invisible tables!

To anyone reading this long-winded blog post, learn about how scientists do their work.  You don't need to be a scientist do that!  Learn a few "facts" that we get from science, and how those "facts" became "facts" in the first place.  Just learning about a few "facts" will be sufficient.  When science has something to say about global warming, for example, you won't simply need to "believe" or "not believe" what is reported.  You can think critically about what results have large uncertainties and what results are fairly well established as "facts."  Hey, knowledge is power, right?  I've certainly got a lot more to learn about how the universe works.  Right now, I happen to be thinking about those glorious cricket balls and the "reverse swing" that only a few, elite bowlers have mastered.  I can't wait for what I'll be trying to learn after getting a better understanding of cricket balls in flight!

21 November 2011

Congrats to the Galaxy!

Will soccer take off in the US and reach a status comparable to its status in the rest of the world?  Probably not in the near future.  But last night's thrilling MLS Cup win by the Los Angeles Galaxy should help soccer's progress.  Without a doubt, most US sports fans were on Sunday focused on our version of professional "football."  Lots of southern US sports fans were surely watching auto racing.  My hope is that US sports fans at least got a glimmer of the MLS Cup highlights.

My appreciation for soccer came relatively late in my life when in my mid 30s I really watched the sport for the first time.  Soccer is a game of nuances.  It's about probing and testing and looking for opportunities to exploit even the smallest of mistakes.  People in the US have criticized soccer because of "lack of scoring" and "too many ties" (or draws).  Los Angeles beat Houston by the score of 1-0.  Many US sports fans are likely to think that that score indicates a "boring" game.  That would have been my opinion ten years ago.  Landon Donovan's goal in the 72nd minute was great all by itself.  But the goal was even greater when one appreciates the fancy footwork of Robbie Keane that made the Houston defense look lost.  It was Keane that fed the ball to Donovan.  Keane was able to shine because of a well-placed header by David Beckham.  Precision passing and fancy footwork propelled the Galaxy to the Cup win.

Keep in mind that Beckham had been probing the Houston defense all game long.  The Galaxy kept pecking away until a goal was possible.  Sure, LA missed a couple of golden opportunities earlier in the game, but that's part of the game, too.  Despite just a single goal, I saw a great deal of athleticism, heart, determination, passion, precision passing, fancy footwork, and good defense.  Why is it so hard to enjoy a great attack on goal when no goal is scored?  Hey, that's a question I couldn't answer ten years ago!

Thanks to DVR, I was lucky to be able to watch most of yesterday's Liverpool win over Chelsea.  That game ended 2-1, and it was exciting watching much of the second half while the score was 1-1.  Each attack on goal had me on the edge of my seat.  Chelsea dominated the possession time, but could not find the go-ahead goal.  And then, in the 87th minute, Glen Johnson found the back of the net for Liverpool.

No longer do I need to see a bunch of goals to enjoy soccer.  Seeing great athletes performing amazing feats in the "beautiful game" is thrilling for me.  The ball sometimes moves in amazing ways, but always within the constraints of the laws of physics.  Having a good understanding of the "why" behind athletes at the pinnacle of their métier makes watching soccer a lot of fun!

07 November 2011

New NYC Marathon Record!

The 2011 New York City Marathon was run on Sunday, 6 November.  Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya won the race in the record-breaking time of 2h 05' 05".  The old record of 2h 07' 43" was set by the Ethiopian runner Tesfaye Jifar back in 2001.  Jifar's time was also eclipsed yesterday by the second-place finisher, Emmanuel Mutai of Kenya at 2h 06' 28", and the third-place finisher, Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia at 2h 07' 13".

Geoffrey Mutai's average speed over the distance of 26 miles and 385 yards (42.195 km) was 12.577 mph (5.622 m/s).  Put another way, Mutai averaged 4 minutes 46.246 seconds per mile.  Click here for my blog post when the marathon world record was broken just over a month ago.  Patrick Makau Musyoki of Kenya established the new record of 2h 03' 38".  Musyoki's average speed of 5.688 m/s was about 1.17% faster than Mutai's average speed in yesterday's New York City Marathon.

28 October 2011

Amazing baseball!

Game 6 of this year's World Series between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals was one of the most thrilling baseball games I've ever seen.  The Rangers were one strike away from winning their first World Series in both the 9th and the 10th innings.  The Cardinals fought back each time.  The game ended in dramatic fashion when David Freese hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 11th to win it for the Cardinals.

As great a game as tonight's game was, I can't help but wonder how many sports fans missed the final couple of innings.  I saw 12:40 am on my clock here on the east coast of the US when Freese touched home plate with the game-ending run.  I have to get up early on Friday morning and get ready for work; many other sports fans will need to do the same.  Major League Baseball has got to do something about important games starting so late.  Sure, extra innings make for a late finish.  Still, one of the most thrilling games in the sport's championship series should not end at midnight, much less 12:40 am, on a weeknight.  I'm curious to know how television ratings for tonight's game changed as Thursday gave way to Friday on the east coast.

One interesting bit of physics caught my eye in tonight's game.  Albert Pujols led off the bottom of the 6th inning by striking out looking.  He took two straight pitches that appeared to cross the plate at roughly the same point.  The first was a breaking pitch that home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called a ball, and rightly so because the pitch was low.  The second was a fastball that Cederstrom called a strike, much to the dismay of Pujols because that was strike three.  That pitch was low and should have been called a ball.

Think about the view of the two pitches from the umpire's point of view.  The breaking ball that Pujols took was dropping with an acceleration greater than that of the local acceleration due to gravity. The fastball that Pujols took for a called strike three was dropping with an acceleration less than the acceleration due to gravity.  Though he was wrong to call the latter pitch a strike, I can't blame Cederstrom too much for the missed call.  After having seen a ball dropping quickly to a plane below the strike zone, Cederstrom saw the next pitch at about the same location, but it was not accelerating downward as much as the previous pitch.  He clearly thought the pitched crossed the plate higher than the previous pitch.  Given that the human eye cannot fully track a Major League fastball during the roughly 0.4 seconds it takes to get from the pitcher's hand to home plate, and given the different downward accelerations of the two pitches, I can understand how Cederstrom could have perceived the two pitches as crossing the plate at different heights.

23 October 2011

All Blacks Win Rugby World Cup!

Following the 2011 Rugby World Cup has been challenging for me.  Besides the time difference between New Zealand and the east coast of the US, there is simply not much interest in rugby in my country.  The games are not readily available on standard television packages.  This is the first Rugby World Cup that I have followed, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it! Congratulations to the New Zealand All Blacks.  They won a tight match over the French Tricolores, 8-7.  This is New Zealand's second championship after having won the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, also over France.

I will give one more shout out to my former editor, Trevor Lipscombe.  Reading his book, The Physics of Rugby, during this year's World Cup made for lots of fun (click here to get a copy).  I still have much to learn about rugby and its gloried history.  But, like everything else, rugby is constrained by the laws of physics.  Science gives me a good starting point for enjoying a sport I knew very little about just five years ago.  With any luck, I might be able to hop across the pond for a match or two in the 2015 World Cup in England.

16 October 2011

Dan Wheldon

As a physicist who researches the sports world, I have been asked if science dehumanizes sports.  I understand that basketball players do not hang in the air and fastballs do not rise.  The truth about how the universe works has always fascinated more than myths.  Scientific understanding of the sports world provides me with avenues to look at and enjoy sports in ways many people cannot. Understanding how a great sports feat is performed does the opposite for me of dehumanizing sports; it allows me to see how talented human beings can nearly reach the limits set by the constraining laws of physics.  The awe that that gives me is entirely human.

I saw the terrible crash that took the life of Dan Wheldon today (click here for an ESPN story).  The horror of the incident reminded me of how much humans push themselves and machines to cross a finish line in record time for the entertainment of those of us without the skill or the intestinal fortitude to embark on such a life.  Upon seeing a great sporting event, my jaw drops first because of the tingling I feel inside induced by watching something so magnificent.  Only later do I use science to help me understand what I saw.  I am quite sure that science will help gain understanding of how such a terrible crash happened in Las Vegas, Nevada.

First and foremost, however, is that a wonderfully talented 33-year-old driver was killed.  He won this year's Indy 500, his second win after his 2005 victory.  More import than any race, Emberton-born Dan Wheldon leaves behind a wife and two very young sons.  I have two young daughters.  Words fail me for what Wheldon's family must be going through.  For all that science helps us understand in the sports world, we are reminded today that real human beings are behind the helmets, masks, cars, and numbers that give us so many thrills.  Dan Wheldon gave us a lot of racing thrills.  My sincerest condolences go out to his family.

08 October 2011

Wins, Losses, and Quick Outs

I thoroughly enjoyed watching last night's Cardinals win over the Phillies.  I really wasn't pulling that hard for either team, but the pitching on both sides was a thing of beauty.  Chris Carpenter pitched a complete-game shutout for St. Louis, giving up just three hits and walking none.  Roy Halladay pitched eight innings for Philadelphia, gave up six hits, walked one, and allowed a first-inning run.

Carpenter clearly pitched better than Halladay, but not by leaps and bounds.  Halladay pitched a great game, but got the "loss" because his team couldn't score any runs for him.  Carpenter got the "win" even though his team mustered just one run.  Sure, Carpenter pitched a fantastic game, but the "win" and "loss" statistics for pitchers really don't say much.

Baseball playoffs are good examples of how small sample sizes do not reveal much.  The Cards advance and the Phillies go home after last night's game was decided by a single run.  The Phillies were 12 games better than the Cards over the regular season, which is comprised of 162 games for each team.

The Phillies finished with 12 wins more than the Cards.  What did that get them?  Philadelphia got to host three out of five playoff games in the first round of the playoffs.  That's really not much of a bonus after such a great regular season!  With fewer teams in the playoffs in past years, baseball better rewarded success over a long season.  There is now talk about adding more playoff teams.  What is the incentive to win 100 games when a team needs only to win 90 (no easy task in MLB!) to secure a playoff spot?  If more teams are added, I hope the team with the best record in each league will get a first-round bye.  In that scenario the regular season will mean a little more than it does now.  Sorry Philly fans.  Your team's 102 wins didn't help much in a five-game playoff series.  The Phillies outscored the Cards 21-19 over their five-game series, but the Cards got what mattered -- three wins.  Philadelphia was a quick out this year.

29 September 2011

Wacky baseball night!

Baseball fans in the US are now well familiar with the epic collapse of the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves.  Last night was probably the most exciting night of baseball I have seen in at least ten years.  There are many, many places to read about what happened to the Red Sox and Braves.

I wish to point out something else that interested me last night.  There were four shutouts last night, three of which were complete-game shutouts by starting pitchers.  The most important of the four was Chris Carpenter's gem against the Houston Astros.  Carpenter gave up just two hits and one walk while striking out 11.  Also throwing a two-hit shutout was Miguel Batista of the New York Mets.  He blanked the Cincinnati Reds as the Mets finished the season at 77-85.

The one run the hapless Minnesota Twins scored for Carl Pavano was enough as Pavano shutout the Kansas City Royals while giving up five hits.  The win kept Minnesota's loss total for the season at 99.

Finally, the Seattle Mariners were shutout last night by two pitchers for the Oakland A's.  Gio Gonzalez gave up just two hits in eight innings; Andrew Bailey got the save after pitching a scoreless 9th inning.  It is a fitting end to the Mariners' season as they finished dead last in baseball in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, batting average, and runs scored.  The team's on-base percentage was 0.292 for the season.  Ouch.  Scoring just 556 runs in 162 games, the Mariners averaged about 3.43 runs per game.  The American League ERA average was 4.08 with the Angles leading the pack at 3.57.  Pitching against Seattle this past year meant that every team was better than the best pitching staff in the league!

There were 323 shutouts in major league baseball this past season; four of them took place last night.  There were 2429 total games played (the Dodgers and Nationals missed a game against each other), meaning shutouts happened in about 13.3% of the games.  There were four shutouts last night in the 15 games played, or about 26.7% of the games, which is double the seasonal average.  I know not to make much out of single points of data, but I did find it interesting that four shutouts took place on the last day of the regular season.

27 September 2011

So long to the Eagles ...

Italy defeated the US in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, 27-10.  Italy got a bonus point, which sets the stage for a great match with Ireland on 2 October.  My initial thought was that Ireland would make it through, but there is still work to do against Italy.

Congratulations to Italy for a great win against the US.  My country's team is now out of the direct qualifying pool for the 2015 World Cup in England.  It will be interesting to see how rugby progresses in the US from here.

26 September 2011

New Marathon World Record!

Congratulations to Patrick Makau Musyoki of Kenya for setting the new world record in the marathon at the Berlin Marathon on 25 September 2011.  The new record is 21 seconds better than the old, which was set almost three years ago by Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia.  Musyoki finished the 26-mile and 385-yard race in 2 hours 3 minutes and 38 seconds.

What was Musyoki's average speed?  Take the distance traveled (26 miles 385 yards or 42.195 km) over his record-breaking time and get 12.724 mph = 20.478 km/hr = 5.688 m/s.  Put another way, Musyoki averaged 4 minutes 42.927 seconds per mile.

I have never run a mile in under 5 minutes in my entire life.  Musyoki averaged better than 4.75 minutes per mile for more than 26 miles!

Note that 25 September 2011 is an historic day in Kenya.  Besides Musyoki's new marathon world record, Kenya lost one of its greatest citizens.  Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, died on the same day.  A phenomenal political and environmental activist, Maathai's Nobel Peace Prize marked the first time the award was given to an African woman.  Click here to learn more about Maathai's work.

23 September 2011

Wow ... Australia!

It is not easy following the 2011 Rugby World Cup while living in the US.  Online updates were the best I could muster for my Eagles match against the Wallabies.  Though we competed well against Ireland, we got hammered by Australia earlier today, 65-7.  Congratulations to Adam Ashley-Cooper for scoring the fastest hat-trick ever in Rugby World Cup play.  Ashley-Cooper accomplished the feat in just seven minutes.  As obvious as it is to state, the US simply got clobbered by a much better team.

Australia and Ireland certainly look to advance out of Pool C, and that is probably not a shock to rugby fans.  I am happy, however, to learn something about rugby in the US while following this year's Rugby World Cup.  Even without the US in the knockout stage, I will keep following the other teams.  I just hope I can watch some of the games.

The sport is relatively new to me, which makes learning about it a lot of fun.  To nobody's surprise, there is a lot of interesting science in rugby.  I am still reading The Physics of Rugby by Trevor Lipscombe (click here to get the book), and I am enjoying it.  Though the physics is familiar to me, the rugby jargon and intricacies of the game are not.  My ignorance of the game is driving me to learn more about it, its rules, styles of play, tactical subtleties, and legendary players.  Rugby is definitely growing on me! 

14 September 2011

A blocked punt leads to the Jets win over the Cowboys!

I analyzed Joe McKnight's great blocked punt from this past Sunday's Jets win over the Cowboys.  This was done at the request of YAHOO! SPORTS.  Click here for the link to the article by Kristian Dyer.

11 September 2011

My introduction to rugby ...

Growing up in the US meant that my sports interests were dominated by baseball, basketball, and football, the "Big Three" American sports.  While in graduate school, I was introduced to other sports by friends and colleagues.  I saw my first soccer game when I was about 24 years old; I played cricket for the first time when I was about 25 years old.  As my research moved into sports physics, I became a lot more familiar with sports that are popular outside the US, like soccer and cycling.  Studying the aerodynamics of soccer balls and modeling the Tour de France have opened my eyes to wonders in sports I never knew as a child.

Today is a special day in the US.  We remember that terrible Tuesday morning ten years ago when we were so viciously attacked.  Thousands of innocent people lost their lives because a group of people had no respect for human life.  Feel free to read countless words elsewhere for analysis of the pernicious people who were responsible.  My blog concerns physics and sports, and sometimes a little more.  Hate and fear are borne out of ignorance.  Even in the sports world, ignorance of a given sport may lead one to dislike that sport at first sight.  I was that way with soccer.  After just a cursory peek at the game as a child, I thought it was boring, certainly not like the action in the "Big Three" American sports.  It wasn't until my mid thirties that I really watched soccer, and then grew to love The Beautiful Game.

While living in Sheffield, England during my 2008-09 sabbatical year, I had great fun watching "football" in pubs.  I also had a lot of fun watching a sport I knew very little about -- rugby.  On a trip to Ireland, my family saw the Irish national team play on television while we had a fantastic meal at the Brazen Head Hotel in east Dublin.  After seeing a few more rugby matches in English pubs, the game grew on me a little.  Nothing like removing ignorance of something to like it a little more, right?

Instead of watching American football on its opening Sunday today, I watched the NBC replay of the US vs Ireland match in the 2011 World Cup of Rugby.  Despite the fact that the US lost by the score of 22-10, I rather enjoyed the match.  My country's team is clearly not as good as the Irish team, but I admired the way we fought on defense.  The rainy weather and some sloppy Irish passes made me appreciate how much physics there is in rugby.  Reducing friction between the ball and a player's hands does not make for good passing!

My interest in the science of rugby has grown through knowing Trevor Lipscombe, my former book editor at The Johns Hopkins University Press.  I have just started reading Trevor's book, The Physics of Rugby, and it is a wonderful read.  Click here to get a copy from Amazon.  I highly recommend it!

Finally, I learned something else while watching the halftime show on NBC.  I did not know the name Mark Bingham.  Born just 106 days before I was, he played on championship rugby teams at UC Berkeley.  Mark Bingham was one of the heroes on United Airlines Flight 93, which went down ten years ago today.  I'm glad to have watched the rugby halftime show because I got to learn about Mark Bingham.  Click here for his Wikipedia page.  Click here for efforts made after Bingham's death to give people who are victims of prejudice an opportunity to shine on a rugby field.

He gave up FIVE HOMERS ... and got the WIN!

I saw an interesting box score last night.  Click here for the box score of the Rockies win over the Reds.  Thinking about the absurdity of the "win" and "loss" stats in baseball got me thinking once again about science and sports.

In physics, we concern ourselves with cause and effect.  We want to understand why a hit baseball eventually returns to Earth just as must as we want to understand why an electron moves around the nucleus of an atom.  Questions of why often involve a little philosophy because we use words like "gravity" and "electromagnetic force" to explain the baseball and the electron, respectively, even if we really don't understand what those interactions are.  Richard Feynman once noted that we use the concept of "energy" all the time, but we really don't understand what energy is.

Perhaps we in science do better with how something works.  We know how a baseball will move through the air because we have developed good models for gravity, air resistance, and the Magnus force that's responsible for a baseball curving.  If we tuck philosophy under the rug, we feel good about our ability to describe why a baseball does what it does.  We have a reasonable understanding of its motion (there are, however, still interesting questions to answer in the realm of baseball physics!).

Sabermetrics tries to understand the why in what happens in baseball.  What can batters do as causes that best lead to the effect of runs on the scoreboard?  What can pitchers do as causes that best lead to the effect of the opposing team not putting runs on the scoreboard?  At the end of a game, the winner is determined by who has scored the most runs.  How those runs were scored, be it by a bunch of home runs or via "small ball," is irrelevant.

Think about what a pitcher can control.  He can strike out or walk a batter essentially all on his own.  The manager or pitching coach might signal the catcher to signal the pitcher what pitch to throw and where to throw it, but the pitcher is the one who has to make the pitch.  A pitcher can also give up a home run.  The fielders can't do anything about a ball sailing into the stands.  The pitcher can also pick runners off base and throw certain pitches that try to "induce" things like ground balls that might lead to double plays.  Pitchers can also hit batters and throw wild pitches.  But, really, a strikeout, a walk, and a home run are where the pitcher is most on his own.  Everything else relies on the quality of the defense behind him, and subtle things like where managers have positioned the defense before a given player comes to bat also play a role.  The bottom line is that a pitcher cannot "win" or "lose" a game all by himself; it's a team effort.

I am certainly not the first person to point out the absurdity of the "win" and "loss" stats in baseball.  Though I've thought about it for more than two decades, this is the first time I've ever written about it in a public way.  Many others have written on this topic, and much better than I will today. See, for example, what the great Joe Posnanski recently wrote by clicking here.  Wins and loses might be fun stats and they have connections to baseball's storied past, but they do not say much about the cause and effect of what pitchers can do to prevent runs from being scored.  As others have written, the "win" is not completely useless as a stat, especially over the length of a player's career.  A pitcher who wins 300 games is a good (or great) pitcher, but the "win" stat doesn't tell the best story.  Over the course of a long career, it might reveal some averaging over "tough luck" losses (say, 2-1) and "lucky" wins (say, 10-9).  In the end, though, the career win total reflects how many games a pitcher pitched, how deep into games the pitcher was able to go (five innings needed for a starting pitcher to get a win), and how successful the pitcher's teams were.  Greatness can be hidden from those who focus too hard on wins.  Just click here to read what Rich Lederer has written since 2003 about the insanely long wait Bert Blyleven endured before getting the Hall of Fame call this past January.

Okay, back to last night's Rockies win over the Reds.  Alex White got the "win" for the Rockies, despite giving up eight hits, seven runs (six of them "earned"), a walk, and FIVE HOME RUNS.  He struck out just one batter.  He got the "win" because (1) he pitched five innings and (2) the score was 8-7 Rockies after the fifth inning ended, and the Rockies never gave up the lead.  As far as preventing runs goes, Alex White had an AWFUL game.

Who got the "loss" in last night's game?  Was it Bronson Arroyo, who started for the Reds?  He pitched just ONE inning and gave up seven hits, six runs (all eared), and struck out one batter.  Giving up five home runs in five innings is bad, but Bronson Arroyo gave up THREE home runs and was the pitcher of record on just three outs.  At least Alex White was the pitcher of record on 15 outs as he gave up seven runs.  Arroyo did not, however, get the "loss" in last night's game.  That went to Matt Maloney who pitched two innings and gave up two runs (one earned).  Matt Maloney was unlucky enough to have pitched the fourth and fifth innings, meaning he was the "pitcher of record" when Colorado took the lead for good after five innings.

So, does Matt Maloney feel like the "loser" in last night's game?  Does Alex White feel like the "winner" in last night's game?  Bronson Arroyo pitched worse than anyone in that game, but he got the "no decision" because his offense kept his team in the game for the first five innings.  Alex White was terrible for five innings, but his teammates scored enough runs to give him the "win."  Of course, four Rockies pitchers came in after Alex White and pitched four shutout innings.  Three of them settled for the wonderful "hold" stat.  Bronson Arroyo was so bad that he could not contribute to more than three outs, but Matt Maloney pitched the wrong two innings and wound up with the "loss."  At least he helped get six outs.  Sam LeCure helped on just three outs while giving up two runs, and Aroldis Chapman gave up two runs and wasn't a part of a single out (he walked two batters and threw a wild pitch)!

Last night's game is certainly not an anomaly, and I'm not just cherry-picking a strange game to make the argument that a pitcher's "win" doesn't tell us much.  Scan box scores every day and see if the "win" and the "loss" tell you much.  C.C. Sabathia, for example, is a good pitcher, but he accumulates wins better than some pitchers because his team scores a lot of runs.  Of his 19 wins, I count six games in which he gave up four or more runs.  C.C. Sabathia is having a great year because he is pitching a lot of innings, has a great strikeout-to-walk ratio (216 K to 55 BB), doesn't give up the long ball (just 15 this year), and has a stellar 150 ERA+.  The "win" total is high because C.C. Sabathia is not only a good pitcher, his team scores runs for him.  Per nine innings, C.C. Sabathia gets 7.06 runs from his teammates, good enough for 13th in the American League.  Don't fault C.C. Sabathia for his good run support, find his greatness in other, more meaningful, pitching stats.

Regarding last night's game in Colorado, I prefer to think that the Rockies got the "win" and the Reds got the "loss."  The Rockies did, after all, score more runs than the Reds before their allotment of outs was used.

25 August 2011

Interview on iTunes

On 28 July 2011, I was interviewed by Bruce Berglund of New Books in Sports, which is part of the New Books Network.  A brief story behind the interview may be found here.  The 62-minute interview became available at the New Books in Sports website on 24 August 2011.  It is also available on iTunes here.

The interview was a lot of fun!  Bruce and I discussed portions of my book, including Flutie's famous Hail Mary pass, laterals in American Football, soccer aerodynamics associated with Beckham's free kicks, Beamon's famous Olympic long jump, modeling the Tour de France, and what happens when a diver like Louganis enters the water (see my book cover).  We also talked about topics outside my book, like baseball flight physics and the controversies surrounding the Jabulani ball used in the 2010 World Cup.  I had a little time to talk about the 2011 Tour de France.

We closed the interview with discussion about my current work, namely my investigations into boundary-layer separation on a soccer ball.  As I mentioned in the interview, if there are young people out there wishing to do research in sports physics, think about studying in the physics department at Lynchburg College.

23 August 2011


I just experienced the second earthquake of my life.  This one was bigger than the one I felt about seven years ago.  Click here for a link to the United States Geological Survey data of the Virginia earthquake of 23 August 2011.  The earthquake's magnitude was 5.9.  Just like the logarithmic scale I mentioned for sound loudness in my last post, earthquake magnitudes are also on a logarithmic scale.

21 August 2011


I needed a break after the Tour de France ended.  My family took a fortnight-long holiday in the first half of August; I only got back to work last Thursday (18 August).  This is my first post since returning from holiday, and there will be very little physics in this one.

On 5 September I will turn 41.  My wonderful wife, Susan, treated me to an early birthday present yesterday (20 August).  She took me to my very first rock concert!  To top it all off, I got to see my favorite band, Journey.  We saw Night Ranger and Foreigner open for Journey at the Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek in Raleigh, North Carolina.  It was one of the best nights of my life!  We had great seats -- eighth row in the second section of reserved seating.

Night Ranger played a short set, including, of course, Sister Christian.  Foreigner was fantastic!  They played a bunch of classic hits.  By the time Journey got on the stage, I was acclimated to my first rock concert.  The noise was deafening at times.  Loudness levels were certainly above 100 dB.  Recall that loudness is measured on a logarithmic scale.  Pain at all frequencies occurs around 130 dB.  I wish I had a sound meter with me last night, but I would have been kicked out for being too nerdy!  Sound levels surely approached pain threshold a few times at our concert.  I now have a first-hand feeling for why so many rock musicians suffer hearing damage.

When asked about physics and sports, I always tell people to enjoy the sporting moment first, and then think about the physics later (even if just a minute later).  Physics is meant to enhance our enjoyment of the natural world; it is not meant to displace one's emotional experience of life.  I thought about sound levels only after our concert was over.  During the concert, I was mesmerized watching and listening to Journey play.  Seeing and hearing Neal Schon play a guitar in front me is something I will never forget.  At 57 the man's axe-work is still top notch.

After seeing scores of classical music concerts, I have now seen a rock concert.  So what if I did not see my first rock concert until I was nearly 41?!?  Better late than never, right?

I plan to add more sports physics posts in the near future.  For now, my ears need a little rest.  One piece of advice I can offer:  SEE JOURNEY LIVE IN CONCERT!!!

25 July 2011

2011 Tour de France Summary

The table below summarizes the quality of my predictions in this year's Tour de France.
Stage Actual Predicted Difference % Diff.
1 4h 41' 31" 4h 40' 01" -01' 30" -0.53
2 0h 25' 16" 0h 26' 35" 01' 19" 5.21
3 4h 40' 21" 4h 44' 55" 04' 34" 1.63
4 4h 11' 39" 4h 09' 29" -02' 10" -0.86
5 3h 38' 32" 3h 52' 05" 13' 33" 6.20
6 5h 13' 37" 5h 20' 13" 06' 36" 2.10
7 5h 38' 53" 5h 11' 43" -27' 10" -8.02
8 4h 36' 46" 4h 49' 26" 12' 40" 4.58
9 5h 27' 09" 5h 19' 43" -07' 26" -2.27
10 3h 31' 21" 3h 41' 08" 09' 47" 4.63
11 3h 46' 07" 3h 46' 05" -00' 02" -0.01
12 6h 01' 15" 5h 59' 26" -01' 49" -0.50
13 3h 47' 36" 3h 46' 52" -00' 44" -0.32
14 5h 13' 25" 5h 02' 45" -10' 40" -3.40
15 4h 20' 24" 4h 36' 38" 16' 14" 6.23
16 3h 31' 38" 4h 05' 59" 34' 21" 16.23
17 4h 18' 50" 4h 32' 07" 13' 17" 5.13
18 6h 07' 56" 5h 51' 23" -16' 33" -4.50
19 3h 13' 25" 2h 57' 54" -15' 31" -8.02
20 0h 55' 33" 0h 51' 06" -04' 27" -8.01
21 2h 27' 02" 2h 27' 40" 00' 38" 0.43
TOTAL 85h 48' 16" 86h 13' 13" 24' 57" 0.48
I predicted six stages (I mistakenly noted five yesterday) to better than 1%.  Only the enigmatic Stage 16 came in over 8% (rounded) off.  I am quite pleased by my predictions!

Note the last row in the above column gives the sum of the stage-winning times.  My model cyclist completed the Tour de France in a time 0.48% slower than the sum of all the stage-winning times.  Note that that time is not the total time posted by this year's winner, Cadel Evans.  His winning time was 86h 12' 22".  Though that time is just a mere 51 seconds off from the sum of my stage-winning times, my goal at the outset was not to predict the overall time for any one cyclist, but the sum of the stage-winning times.

The overall error of 0.48% is a bit misleading because it comes from a lot of cancellation.  For example, I was 27' 10" fast on Stage 5 and 34' 21" slow on Stage 16.  Those "fast" and "slow" times tend to cancel at the end.  If I add error in quadrature, I wind up with a 1.16% error, which is still not bad!

Modeling the Tour de France is a lot of fun for me, and it enhances my pleasure in following the race.  My stats page tells me that people from 21 different countries checked out this blog during the course of the race.  I am humbled and flattered by the level of interest in my blog.  Please contact me with any questions you may have.  If you want more details about Tour de France modeling, check out Chapter 4 in my book, Gold Medal Physics:  The Science of Sports.

I plan to add more sports science posts in the future.  Feel free to send me suggestions of sporting events and/or athletic feats that might benefit from the eye of a physicist.

24 July 2011

Nearly perfect on Stage 21!

Here is the result from the final stage of the 2011 Tour de France:

  • Stage 21:  2h 27' 02" (actual), 2h 27' 40" (prediction), 38" slow (0.43% error)
Given how the last stage is usually run, I am quite happy with my prediction!  I asked yesterday if Mark Cavendish could win his third straight final stage -- and he did!  Here is his average speed:
  • Stage 21:  10.77 m/s (24.1 mph)
Congratulations to Cadel Evans for becoming Australia's first Tour de France winner!

Tomorrow I will post a summary of my predictions for this year's Tour de France.  Five stage predictions came in under 1% off.  Just one stage came in over 8%, and that was my dreadful Stage 16 (still an enigma for me!).  I am happy with how my model did!

23 July 2011

A bit fast on Stage 20 ...

Here is the result from today's individual time trial:

  • Stage 20:  55' 33" (actual), 51' 06" (prediction), -04' 27" fast (-8.01% error)
Just like with Stage 19, I was 8% too fast on the penultimate stage.  I guess Stage 16 convinced me that I needed a little more power -- a little too much it turned out.  Here is what Tony Martin was able to average in his win today:
  • Stage 20:  12.75 m/s (28.5 mph)
To answer my question from yesterday, "Yes, the Schleck brothers can be stopped!"  Let's hear it for Australia!!!  Cadel Evans came from down under to sit atop the cycling world.  Australia will surely celebrate its first Tour de France winner after tomorrow's ride into Paris.

The last stage is always the hardest to model.  I can take the terrain data and predict what a top cyclist would do.  The last stage, however, is usually not as hotly contested as previous stages.  This year's final stage is rather short at just 95 km (59 miles).  Here is my prediction:
  • Stage 21:  2h 27' 40" (prediction)
I have dialed the power input back quite a bit.  Will Mark Cavendish win his third straight Tour de France final stage?  Were the final stage fought as hard as possible, I'd probably lop 15 to 20 minutes off the above time.  But, I am trying to predict what will happen, so I am going with the slower time.

22 July 2011

A bit fast on Stage 19 ...

I thought someone could finish Stage 19 in just under three hours.  I was wrong about that!  Here is the result from Stage 19:

  • Stage 19:  3h 13' 25" (actual), 2h 57' 54" (prediction), -15' 31" fast (-8.02% error)
Pierre Rolland had a great climb at the end to overtake Alberto Contador.  Here is Rolland's average speed:
  • Stage 19:  9.44 m/s (21.1 mph)
I'm always glad to be under 10% on my predictions.  Even though I was 8% off today, I thought the stage could have been done a little faster.  Here is my prediction for tomorrow's individual time trial:
  • Stage 20:  51' 06" (prediction)
Can the Schleck brothers be stopped?

21 July 2011

Back under 5% for Stage 18!

Here is the Stage 18 result:

  • Stage 18:  6h 07' 56" (actual), 5h 51' 23" (prediction), -16' 33" slow (-4.50% error)
I am happy to be under 5% again!  Did the poor weather slow riders down a little?  If so, I feel even better about my prediction because my model did not include adverse weather for Stage 18.  Then again, it rained on Stage 16, and that one remains a mystery to me.

The Schleck brothers got it done today.  Here is Andy Schleck's average speed:
  • Stage 18:  9.08 m/s (20.3 mph)
Thomas Voeckler was able to hold on to the yellow jersey.  Tomorrow's stage, which is the final mountain stage, might just decide this year's winner.  Here is my prediction:
  • Stage 19:  2h 57' 54" (prediction)
Stage 19 should be incredible!  Riders climb to an elevation of 2.556 km (1.588 miles) as they reach Col du Galibier in the French Alps at the 48.5-km (30.1-mile) mark.  The next 46 km (28.6 miles) will then make for a great downhill.  The final 15 km (9.32 miles) will have riders climbing a 7.9% grade to get to the famous ski village at L'Alpe d'Huez.  In 2004, Lance Armstrong dominated that climb in that year's Stage 16, which was an individual time trial.  Armstrong beat the second-place finisher, Jan Ullrich, by just over a minute.  That stage sticks out in my mind because I cover it in detail in Chapter 4 of my book.

If weather does not slow riders down, I hope to see the winner's time sneak under three hours.

20 July 2011

Much better on Stage 17!

Here is the Stage 17 result:

  • Stage 17:  4h 18' 50" (actual), 4h 32' 07" (prediction), 13' 17" slow (5.13% error)
As with Stage 16, I was slow on this stage.  I am obviously much happier with a 5% error than yesterday's 16% error!  Stage 16 is still a mystery to me.  That stage was mostly uphill in the rain, and the winner's average speed beat every other stage winner's average speed (except that in the team time trial of Stage 2).

The Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen had the following average speed today:
  • Stage 17:  11.53 m/s (25.6 mph)
Despite the near 50-km downhill near the end of today's stage, Hagen's average speed was nearly 10% less than Hushovd's Stage 16 average speed.  Again, what happened on Stage 16?!?  I welcome your thoughts in the comments.

Stage 18 has three monster climbs and two great downhill segments.  By the time riders reach the end at Galibier / Serre-Chevalier, they will have gained 2.29 km (1.42 miles) of elevation from their starting point.  Here is my Stage 18 prediction:
  • Stage 18:  5h 51' 23" (prediction)
Can Thomas Voeckler hold the yellow jersey after tomorrow?  It should be a wonderful climb to the finish line!

19 July 2011

Worst prediction ...

This is, by far, my worst prediction of the 2011 Tour de France.  Here is the result from Stage 16:

  • Stage 16:  3h 31' 38" (actual), 4h 05' 59" (prediction), 34' 21" slow (16.23% error)
I am stunned by how fast this stage turned out to be.  Here is Thor Hushovd's average speed:
  • Stage 16:  12.80 m/s (28.6 mph)
Except for the team time trial in Stage 2, the above average speed is the largest so far.  I never thought that a stage that is almost entirely uphill could have such a large average speed.  The God of Thunder certainly shocked me today!  Was there a massive tailwind today???

Here is my prediction for Stage 17:
  • Stage 17:  4h 32' 07" (prediction)
I am shocked that today's stage was well under four hours.  Stage 14 was won in over five hours.  Tomorrow's Stage 17 does not have as many brutal climbs as were found in Stage 14.  Stage 17 should end with a great downhill sprint into the Italian city of Pinerolo.

18 July 2011

Stage 16 prediction ...

Here is my prediction for Stage 16:

  • Stage 16:  4h 05' 59" (prediction)
Can someone finish Stage 16 in under four hours?  We shall see!  It will take a rider with a lot of power input because the majority of the stage is uphill.  The stage should end with a great downhill sprint into Gap.

17 July 2011

Congratulations to Japan

It was agonizing seeing the US women lose today, but I am happy for the Japanese team.  They played with a great deal of heart.  To keep coming back the way they did, Japan will take home a well-earned trophy.

For me, I loved being able to share the women's World Cup with my two young daughters.  They now know names like Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, and Megan Rapinoe.  Each time Rapinoe had the ball, my girls exclaimed, "Rapinoe has it!  Rapinoe has it!"  After the game was over, my two girls went outside and played soccer.  I thank my national team for inspiring my girls to put boot to ball and experience a little of the beautiful game.

A bit slow on Stage 15 ...

Here is the Stage 15 result:

  • Stage 15:  4h 20' 24" (actual), 4h 36' 38" (prediction), 16' 14" slow (6.23% error)
This is the one stage I'm kicking myself over!  After three grueling mountain stages, I knocked my code's biker power input down just a little for Stage 15.  Had I not done that, my error would have been cut in half.  The fact that I was wrong to do that actually inspires me because that means the athletes at the Tour de France are even better than I first thought.  Here is what Mark Cavendish was able to average in today's impressive win:
  • Stage 15:  12.32 m/s (27.6 mph)
This is almost exactly the same speed Cavendish averaged during his win in Stage 11.  Certainly impressive!

Monday is a rest day.  I plan to publish my Stage 16 prediction on Monday.  I am hoping to get one or two more profile points.  Right now, I need to get a few other things done so that I can watch the women's World Cup final.  Go US!

16 July 2011

A tad more realistic on Stage 14 ...

When I started modeling the Tour de France in 2003, I thought predicting a stage win to better than 10% would be pretty good.  Anytime I got a stage better than 5%, I thought I had done a great job.  The last three stages of this year's race were a little surreal.  I just can't predict every stage to better than 1%!  Stage 14 brought me back to reality a little, but I am still pleased with my prediction.  Here is the result:

  • Stage 14:  5h 13' 25" (actual), 5h 02' 45" (prediction), -10' 40" fast (-3.40% error)
Though thrilled with just a 3.4% error, I think my model was a tad fast because I did not add a "Gee, I'm tired on this third mountain stage in a row!" line to my code.

Here is what Jelle Vanendert was able to average for Stage 14:
  • Stage 14:  8.96 m/s (20.0 mph)
Stage 15 will give the riders a little relief because it is mostly flat.  Monday is a rest day.  Here is my Stage 15 prediction:
  • Stage 15:  4h 36' 38" (prediction)
Will riders be tired on Sunday?  Will the ride into Montpellier be a relief for rider's looking forward to Monday's rest?  I can't wait to see what happens!

After the Tour de France, I will be watching our US women's soccer team take on Japan in the World Cup final.

15 July 2011

Just 44 seconds off Stage 13!

Here is the result from Stage 13:

  • Stage 13:  3h 47' 36" (actual), 3h 46' 52" (prediction), -44" fast (-0.32% error)
I'm once again shocked how well I predicted a mountain stage.  Thor Hushovd had a great ride.  Here is what The God of Thunder was able to average:
  • Stage 13:  11.17 m/s (25.0 mph)
Stage 14 looks to be a brutal ride.  There will be, however, some amazing vistas along the way.  Here is what I predict for Stage 14:
  • Stage 14:  5h 02' 45" (prediction)
After such a grueling couple of stages, can someone finish Stage 14 in under five hours?  I'm sure the riders will be thrilled to reach the Pyrenees ski resort of Plateau de Beille at the end of the stage.  They will then be at an elevation of 1.78 km (1.1 miles).

14 July 2011

Nearly nailed Stage 12!

Here is the Stage 12 result:

  • Stage 12:  6h 01' 15" (actual), 5h 59' 26" (predicted), -01' 49" fast (-0.50% error)
Wow, I'm really happy to hit the first major mountain stage to within half a percent error!  I thought the winner might be just a tad under six hours, but it turned out to be just a tad over.  Here is Samuel Sánchez's average speed:
  • Stage 12:  9.73 m/s (21.8 mph)
Stage 13 has a great climb up to Col d'Aubisque.  Here is my prediction:
  • Stage 13:  3h 46' 52" (prediction)
After a monster climb to the 110-km mark, it'll be a great downhill to the end at Lourdes!