Cornrow fractals

Do iPods help Olympic athletes perform better?

I blogged a while back about “why conservatives hate MP3 players” — the folks on the cultural right who think personal audio-players seal young people into self-involved bubbles of existential onanism, in which they pay no attention to the world around them.

Now it turns out this debate has arisen in the winter Olympics! Apparently, this year’s young Olympians love their iPods so much that many listen to them while they’re competing. The US snowboard team has even wired their uniforms to accomodate iPods, with iPod-sized pockets, speakers in their hoods, and control panels on their left sleeves. The music, says snowboarder Dustin Majewski, helps him stay in the zone: “It enables you to focus on what you’re doing without actually focusing, if that makes any sense,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “You’re not over-thinking, and that’s the best way to perform the harder tricks and maneuvers.”

That description is both hilariously incoherent and oddly spot-on. I think he’s trying to describe the sense of “flow” — being so joyously immersed in a task that the rest of the world seems to drop away: Perfect concentration without any sense of effort. But as it turns out, not all trainers and athletes think music has this sort of effect, as the Sun story goes on to report:

“I’m not certain it’s such a good idea” to listen to a music player during events, said Mike Jones of Dundalk, the president of the Baltimore Ski Club. “When you’re doing aerials and everything, you have to concentrate and focus on positions. On a day when it’s cloudy, you don’t know whether you’re looking at snow or sky, and distractions can be very dangerous.”

In fact, Spyder — the company that sponsors the alpine ski team — didn’t rig its Olympic uniforms with iPod-ready wires in part because of safety concerns.

“The skiers are racing down at 40 miles an hour,” said Laura Wisner, a company spokeswoman. “You are in a completely different realm. It would not be a good time to listen to your iPod.”

(Thanks to Yishay Mor for this one!)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson