by Vincenzo Triunfo (translated by Gillian Shaw) source text
For a sportsperson, beating a record is the pinnacle. Limits are defined by records, in sport. Yet, while records are there to be broken, sometimes we find ourselves facing up to records that are the result of a technological or environmental change.
In rowing, for example, records are generally set over 2000 metres. The reason for this is simple: there are too many influences on conditions where we race, but thanks to the ergometer (indoor rower), rowers can test themselves against the records set over various distances.
Murray beat Pinsent: but is it a true record?!
An historic record was broken a while ago: in 2000, the four-time Olympic champion Matthew Pinsent broke the 5000 metre record in 15 minutes 11 seconds. Another rowing champion and bowman of the ‘kiwi pair’, New-Zealander Eric Murray, did the same distance on 16th November 2015, in 14 minutes 56 seconds and 4 tenths. A stellar result, to say the least. Achieved on the newest Concept2, a point perhaps less relevant than the Kiwi’s performance being completed with a ‘slide’.
Placed under the ergo, the slide gives the athlete the feel of being in a rowing boat, from the point of view of inertia. Or rather the athlete is not moving on the ergo, it is the ergo that moves under the athlete. There is such a difference in stroke efficiency due to the significantly reduced forces of inertia and the relative mass of the athlete (about 95kg): there is only that of the ergometer which is about 30kg.
Studies have compared the output of inertia of the rowing stroke in a boat, on an ergo and also on an ergo with a slide. The differences amount to approximately 10 percentage points between the sliding and the static ergo. Physics also shows, as in the formula, that at high rate there is a notable increase in the effort required to move the athlete’s mass forwards and backwards; increasing with the cubing of pace R. This is a further advantage offered by the slide, given that a higher rate is maintained.
In fact, Murray’s record was achieved at over 36 strokes a minute, on average. To his merit, Murray himself posted on Facebook on 18th November that he had used an ergometer on a slide, suggesting that this had been an advantage. Yet, more than a simple hypothesis from an athlete, champion or not, it could be checked out with some maths. A story for another time.