By Anthony Tan
According to a report published in the New Zealand Herald today, Guy Halewood, the convener of the New Zealand selection panel, feels that Sarah Ulmer's world record achieved in the 3000 metre individual pursuit may well stand for a very long time, believing the benefits of an outdoor stadium contributed significantly to her performance in Athens.
Last August at the 28th Olympiad, Ulmer first chopped off four seconds off her previous world record in qualifying to post a time of 3 minutes 26.400 seconds. Then, in the final against Australian Katie Mactier - considered by many to be Ulmer's heir-apparent - the 28 year-old from Auckland took another two seconds off her day-old world-best mark to finish in a time of 3 minutes 24.537 seconds.
"At Athens that night, the oxygen and moisture content [of the air] was perfect. The air was refreshed because there was no roof on the velodrome," said Halewood. "There is only so much oxygen in indoor stadiums and the crowd takes most of it. The competitors get what is left."
While Halewood based most of thoughts on the fact that the Athens track was a 'roofless' velodrome, the stadium did indeed have a roof, but no sides, as seen in Cyclingnews'2004 Olympic Games preview.Gerard Knapp and John Stevenson also reported back in August that the two determining factors (outside of the form of the athletes, who were all in top form) were heat and humidity.
"Hot air is less dense, and therefore easier to push through, and increased humidity involves the air being partly replaced with less dense water vapour," said the report. "Combine these elements of great athletes and a dry track with hot and humid conditions - especially as hot air can contain more water vapour than cold air - and the scene is set for records if the riders are up to the task, as they have shown repeatedly in Athens."
Furthermore, Knapp and Stevenson refuted the perception that riding in high heat and humidity is harder due to the increased perspiration, as timed events on the track like the individual pursuit are relatively short, so hydration is not an issue.
What is not under dispute, however, is Ulmer's incredible performance last August, and pundits are already speculating whether the New Zealander can continue her success at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, where, if she were to compete, the popular sports figure would be 32 years old.
See related article: Humidity, heat and speed - Why track records are falling at Athens