How Do They Do That? Inside the Physics of The 2014 Winter Olympic Games

Email a Friend
Han-Bin Lee of South Korea, Dequan Chen of China and Michael Gilday of Canada compete in Short Track Speed Skating on day 3 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
From and

The Winter Olympics is a spectacular combination of low temperature chemistry, physics, athletics, pure guts, and absolute beauty and grace.

We love the Winter Games—we're glued to the screen, we’re checking the medal count and we care about Bob Costas's eyes. But of course, we love our science too.

So here’s an invitation to explore what's going on with some of our favorite events in a much, much deeper way. Beyond the costumes, the equipment and the music, how do Olympic athletes do what they do?

Welcome to "How Do They Do That?," a short series from The Takeaway that explores the physics of the Sochi Games, and how the physical world plays a part in every competition. Our friend Eric Goff is the chair of the physics department at Lynchburg College and author of "Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports." He brings us through the science behind speed skating, figure skating, ski jump, curling, skeleton.

Kyou Hyuk Lee of South Korea competes in the Speed Skating Men's 1000m during day five of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Adler Arena Skating Center on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

( Photo by Robert Cianflone )

Mark Tuitert of the Netherlands competes in the Speed Skating Men's 1000m during day five of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Adler Arena Skating Center on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

( Photo by Robert Cianflone )

Denis Yuskov of Russia competes in the Speed Skating Men's 1000m during day five of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Adler Arena Skating Center on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Robert Cianflone )

Muncef Ouardi of Canada competes in the Speed Skating Men's 1000m during day five of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Adler Arena Skating Center on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Robert Cianflone )

Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands celebrates winning the Men's 1000m Speed Skating event during day 5 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at at Adler Arena Skating Center on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Streeter Lecka )

Denmark's Rasmus Stjerne Hansen (R) shouts for direction as John Shuster (L) of the USA looks on during the 2014 Sochi winter olympics men's curling round robin session 4 match against Switzerland at the Ice Cube curling centre in Sochi on February 12, 2014. 

( Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images) )

Jared Zezel of the USA throws the stone during the 2014 Sochi winter olympics men's curling round robin session 4 match against Switzerland at the Ice Cube curling centre in Sochi on February 12, 2014. 

 

( Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images )

Sandro Trolliet and Simon Gempeler of Switzerland compete in the Curling Men's Round Robin match between USA and Denmark during day five of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Ice Cube Curling Center on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

 

( Photo by Quinn Rooney )

Christoffer Svae of Norway slides with the stone during Curling Men's Round Robin match between Norway and Germany during day five of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Ice Cube Curling Center on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Quinn Rooney )

Eve Muirhead of Great Britain in action during the Curling Round Robin match between Canada and Great Britain during day five of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Ice Cube Curling Center on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

( Photo by Clive Mason )

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany compete in the Figure Skating Pairs Free Skating during day five of the 2014 Sochi Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Matthew Stockman )

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch of Canada compete in the Figure Skating Pairs Free Skating during day five of the 2014 Sochi Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

( Photo by Matthew Stockman )

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France compete in the Figure Skating Pairs Free Skating during day five of the 2014 Sochi Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Clive Mason )

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir of the United States compete in the Figure Skating Pairs Free Skating during day five of the 2014 Sochi Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Matthew Stockman )

Israel's Evgeni Krasnopolski and Israel's Andrea Davidovich perform their Figure Skating Pairs Free Program at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 12, 2014. 

( Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP )

Sara Takanashi of Japan jumps during the Ladies' Normal Hill Individual trial on day 4 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center on February 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

( Photo by Ezra Shaw )

Sara Takanashi of Japan during the Ladies' Normal Hill Individual trial on day 4 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center on February 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

( Photo by Adam Pretty )

Eva Logar of Slovenia jumps during the Ladies' Normal Hill Individual first round on day 4 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center on February 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Adam Pretty )

Maren Lundby of Norway competes during the Ladies' Normal Hill Individual first round on day 4 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center on February 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Lars Baron )

Sara Takanashi of Japan competes during the Ladies' Normal Hill Individual final round on day 4 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center on February 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

( Photo by Ezra Shaw )

Tatjana Huefner of Germany in action during the Women's Luge Singles on Day 4 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Sliding Center Sanki on February 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Julian Finney )

Matthew Mortensen and Preston Griffall of the United States make a run during the Men's Luge Doubles on Day 5 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Sliding Center Sanki on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Alex Livesey )

Ander Mirambell of Spain makes a practice skeleton run ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on February 5, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Alex Livesey )

John Daly of the United States makes a practice skeleton run ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on February 5, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

( Photo by Alex Livesey )

Wolfgang Kindl of Austria makes a run during the men's luge training session ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on February 5, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

( Photo by Al Bello )
of