For swimmers at the Olympic level, a tenth of a second can be the difference between a glorious triumph and heart-wrenching defeat. Because of this, athletes must prepare for the exact conditions that will be present during their races.
Altitude, ambient temperature, humidity, time of day and water cleanliness are all factors that can affect a swimmer's speed every time they race. With that in mind, here are some of the ways that the Olympic swimmers will need to prepare for the Rio games this summer.
In general, exercising at altitude puts more stress on the heart and increases the rate at which even professional athletes may become winded. In many cases, athletes that are used to competing at higher altitudes will be at an advantage against those used to lower-altitude workouts.
Fortunately for the 2016 athletes, the competition pools at Rio are not at elevation. However, many athletes will be preparing for the Olympics by training at altitude. For example, long distance swimmers may train at a higher elevation in order to increase their endurance at lower elevations.
Unlike other sports like running, swimming is unique in that it is only slightly impacted by the ambient temperature. The pool is meticulously kept at a specific temperature for traditional swim events, so the temperature of the air is less of a concern.
However, warmer temperatures like those in Rio can impact swimmers by tiring them out more while they are outdoors before and after events, so swimmers (especially those used to colder climates) may arrive early in Rio to acclimate.
In addition, open water swimmers (for whom the water temperature is not automatically set) will likely do training in warm water to prepare for the tropical water temperatures in Rio.
Humidity can make it more difficult to breathe and cause increased water loss from sweat. Although swimmers may feel that they suffer less than other athletes due to humidity, they still need to be wary of humidity's effects on their bodies.
To keep healthy in the high humidity of Rio, the Olympians will need to arrive early to acclimate, drink extra water, refuel with the proper electrolytes, and rest often leading up to their events.
Time of Day
Many athletes become accustomed to training at a specific time of day. The body may perform better when it is during certain hours. After adjusting for jet lag over a few days in Rio, athletes will then need to practice training at certain times of day.
This year at the Rio Olympics, there is the added challenge of adjusting for swimmers due to the irregular scheduling of the events. Traditionally, the swim events have been held in the early evening. However, this year it has been announced that the competition for certain events will start as late as 10 pm, potentially lasting until 2 am local time, in order to accommodate the television prime-time viewing hours for live airing in the United States.
Although this decision has been hotly contested, if it stands the swimmers may need to adjust their sleep schedules to accommodate their training, and swimmers from the United States may be at an advantage to their competitors.
How Swimmers Will Adapt to Rio
Water quality will only affect the athletes who compete in the open water swimming competitions; however it will impact them greatly. Lower water quality means lower visibility, and the potential for illness to occur from organisms in the water. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to acclimate to bad water quality.
If the water quality in Rio is poor, the open water competitors will have to grin and bear it and try to limit any ingestion. Although there has been some concern about the water quality at Rio this year, there is hope that the water will be cleared for swimming by the time of the Olympics.
Although none of these factors is likely to be the cause of an athlete's win or loss, most athletes will attempt to have the advantage over their peers in the given conditions. Rio 2016 may have additional challenges for the non-locals, but expect the Olympic-level swimmers to anticipate the environmental factors that could most affect their times and adjust their training to meet the challenges at their best physical condition.