An Olympic Book Review

The Science of Sports: Winning in the Olympics takes a timely look at research on athletics.

By | July 26, 2012

Credit: Scientific American, 2012

Science pervades sports. From technologically advanced methods for monitoring physiological data to optimize training regimens to modern medical treatments for sports-related injuries, the two areas of human endeavor are practically inseparable. A new book from Scientific American, titled The Science of Sports: Winning in the Olympics, celebrates this marriage of sport and science by exploring different facets of today's athlete quite literally from head (see sections titled "The Psychology of Winning" and "Concussions") to toe (see the essay on "How to Avoid Shin Splints").

Contributions from Scientific American editors and a few freelance science writers make for an interesting range of perspectives on several topics that sit squarely at the intersection of Olympic sport and science. And because the book is published in the e-book format, it allows for a timely treatment of current topics affecting the upcoming Olympic Games. For example, one of the more interesting entries was a debate on the inclusion of South African track athlete Oscar Pistorius, who runs on a pair of J-shaped, carbon-fiber lower legs. The piece tells the story of Pistorius's trials and travails as he was banned and then later included in Olympic competition.

The viewpoints of scientific experts in arguing the runner's case were extremely informative, but highlighted one weakness of the book. While the contributors to The Science of Sports provide interesting and informative dispatches from the fascinating confluence of research and athleticism, it would have been nice to include pieces written by the researchers actually pushing the boundaries of that frontier. I would have loved to read more essays penned by working researchers, such as the essay written by University of Illinois cognitive neuroscientist Michelle Voss on neurological and psychological differences seen in elite athletes. (She has previously opined on the cognitive effects of exercise in one article for Scientific American). Including essays from the drug testers, sports physiologists, physicians, and material scientists profiled and quoted in the book would have made for even more riveting reading.

Nonetheless, this e-book makes for a nice little accompaniment for any science buff tuning into the 2012 Olympic Games. And if you're making the trip to London to see the Games in person, take along your mobile device. This book is the perfect distraction to make that flight, ocean journey, or train ride to the world's premier sporting event go by a little quicker. You can download it to your tablet, smart phone, e-reader, or laptop at

The Science of Sports: Winning in the Olympics, Scientific American, ISBN: 978-1-466824102, 2012.

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