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Physics in Sports

Are you a fan of sports? Do you love watching the Olympics? Do you like science or physics? Did you ever think that these two passions could actually relate? Well, if so, you came to the right place to find out how soccer players do free kicks, how divers survive the huge drops, and how high jumpers are able to jump so high without touching the bar. Firstly, have you ever attended a soccer game, and saw a player kick a soccer ball in one direction, but then it suddenly curved and flew straight into the goal? This happens because of Newton’s first law, which states: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” When the player kicked the soccer ball, they gave it direction and velocity, which is needed for Newton’s first law to happen. “But what made the ball curve?” you may ask. The key component of this kick is the spin. By kicking the ball in the lower right corner, the player made the ball go up and to the right, spinning the ball around its axis. The air that was moving against and with the ball created low and high pressures on each side. In this situation the ball tended to curve towards the lower pressure, following something called the “Magnus Effect”. Sir Isaac Newton first discovered and proved this theory, which states, “the force exerted on a rapidly spinning cylinder or sphere moving through air or another fluid in a direction at an angle to the axis of spin”. Thanks to the Magnus Effect, soccer players are able to make shots that at first glance seem impossible.

Secondly, have you ever watched the diving during the Summer Olympics and thought: “Wow, how can the divers jump off a board so high up and not die?” Well, if you have wondered this, you are in luck: there is a simple logic behind your query. The first priority of the diver is to not to land on the diving board, so they have to travel in an arch shape, pushing off the diving board about a meter away into the air. By doing this, the diver is increasing their height, because the higher they are, the more tricks they can do. As the divers get closer to the surface of the water, they curl their bodies into a ball, to make their spinning speed faster, and therefore they can do more tricks. This concept is called the “Moment of Inertia,” which is, “a quantity expressing a body’s tendency to resist angular acceleration.” To complete the dive, the diver should enter the water as straight as possible with either hands or legs. This finish is done by first puncturing a hole in the water and stopping yourself from spinning. Thanks to the concept “Moment of Inertia” the divers can spin multiple times and hopefully win the gold!

Lastly, in the Summer Olympics we have the amazing sport called the high jump. All high jumpers use a method called the “Fosbury Flop”. This technique is where the jumper jumps backwards with their back above the bar and goes head first. A huge advantage of this technique is that it allows the jumper to have a smaller chance of knocking over the bar. This method works markedly well thanks to the physics concept called “Center of Mass,” which states, “The center of mass is the unique point at the center of a distribution of mass in space that has the property that the weighted position vectors relative to this point sum to zero.” The most effective way of performing the jump is to position your center of body mass under the bar. Not only is this easier for the jumper, but it works more successfully. Thanks to the “Center of Mass” concept the jumpers are able to lift themselves higher above the bar to new heights.

In conclusion, physics plays a huge role in our lives, especially in sports. This article has explained only three physics concepts — the Magnus Effect, Moment of Inertia, and Center Mass — but there is a whole world of marvels in every sport, perhaps more than we can even count.

By: Anna Tretiakova

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