Math in the Winter Olympic Games | Things Explained: Angles

Math in the Winter Olympic Games | Things Explained: Angles


The Winter Olympics is a major
international sporting event held every four years. Athletes participate in many different sports—
highlighting their strength, precision, and endurance. But if we look at the Winter Olympics
from a different angle, we see that these sports
involve quite a bit of math. Take ice hockey for example. The design of the rink itself involves precise measurements and geometric shapes that
designate different areas of play. To start or resume play an official drops
the puck in the center of a faceoff circle. The center of the circle is equally distant
from any point on the circle itself. That gives each player equal space and
opportunity to retrieve the puck. Circles actually play an important role in
understanding another math concept: angles. An angle is the turn or space that is
formed when two rays, or lines, meet at an endpoint, also known as a vertex. Angles are measured in degrees. If you were to make a full rotation from
the center point of this circle, the arc or the turn, will always measure 360 degrees. Doing a half rotation creates a straight line, with an arc that measures a hundred and eighty degrees, or half of 360. There are three main types of angles:
right, obtuse, and acute. A right angle measures exactly 90 degrees,
or a quarter of a circle. Right angles are easy to spot on this
hockey rink because they form the corners of all rectangles and squares. An obtuse angle measures more
than 90 degrees but less than 180. A prime example in hockey is the
shape of a hockey stick, where the angle formed between the blade and the shaft
typically measures around 135 degrees. An acute angle is a v-shape that is less
than 90 degrees. You can see acute angles in hockey when defenders try to prevent the attackers from scoring. The defender will try to limit the attackers’ angle of access, or an angle of attack, to the net. Because an attacker has the widest angle of access when the puck is directly in front of the net, the defenders try to push the attacker off
to the side to narrow the angle. Ski jumping is also a sport where angles
are important to consider. Skiers go down an in-run, jump, and attempt to land as far as possible down the hill below. Early ski jumpers would keep their skis parallel. But in the 1980s and 1990s, skiers
adopted the v-shaped formation. This new acute angle became the preferred method because it provides 30% more lift in the air. And better airlift means a better shot at
bringing home the gold. Figure skaters also take advantage of acute angles. If a skater’s arm represents a line and her
torso represents another line, with her shoulder as the vertex, we can see that
the angle widens and narrows depending on the skater’s move. A skater will tighten the space to an acute angle to maximize speed during a rotation. To slow the rotation, the skater will lift her
arm to form an obtuse angle. You can try the same technique using an office chair. To increase your speed, narrow the angle
of your arms and torso. To decrease your speed, lift your arms
and form an obtuse angle. When you’re watching the Olympics this year,
pay close attention to how circles and angles play an important role in each of
the sporting events. And as always, stay curious.

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