Saturday, 4 January 2014

Maths in Sport - Marcel Hirscher

An Interview with... Marcel Hirscher

Marcel Hirscher is an Austrian alpine skier who was born in 1989. His achievements include World Cup Giant Slalom Champion for the 2012 season, World Cup Slalom Champion in 2013 and overall World Cup Champion in 2012 and 2013. In 2012 he was awarded the Skieur d'Or by the International Association of Ski Journalists

Marcel kindly took some time out of his busy schedule, including World Cup events that are currently underway and WInter Olympic preparations, to answer some questions for me about how mathematics relates to his sport.

Marcel with the slalom and overall World Cup trophies in early 2013

The questions and answers:

Describe what mathematics lessons were like for you at school. 
I’m surely more talented in the creative part. As a matter of fact languages were my preferred business. But of course I passed all my math-units as well.

When you left school, did you expect to be using any of the mathematics that you were taught ever again?
Not really, no. But I’ve learned my lessons and it didn’t harm neither me nor anybody to keep body and mind in training so far. Furthermore I think math is a good way to keep the brain in shape, even if you're mathematically not that privileged.

How good do you need to be at mental arithmetic to do calculations in your head when you are training or racing?
The calculations in my job are not that much linked with the ability for mental arithmetic. It’s quite simple, I don‘t see my real position before the first sight on the timetables. That applies for training as well as for every race.

How aware are you of angles when skiing – such as angle of approach into corners, angle of slope, angle of body etc?
I wouldn’t use the term ‘aware’. I work hard on strength and balance in my workouts. But physically and not mathematically. To become aware of the angle of a slope I’m doing the course tour. As a result I’m dealing quite well with all the upcoming angles.

When you are in a race, how much is “mathematical thinking and calculating” and how much is “go as fast as you can”?
It’s always “go as fast as you can”. But of course I have to do my homework to beat time. As already mentioned there’s no mathematical thinking needed in this context.

Is estimation good enough or do you prefer to measure distances and times accurately?
I think estimation does not fit in the life of a professional racer. So accurate measurements are indispensable.

When you are racing, do you keep an eye on the time clock?
It’s not really a clock. When I crossed the finish line I keep my eyes on the time display.

Have your coaches ever used mathematics and physics to explain your style?
I’ve often been told that my size has a positive effect on my agility. So maybe it’s about angles again.

Do you look at statistics much to analyse your training and races?
Yes I do, especially concerning lactate values, my weight, muscle mass and every other indicators which are important for my profession.

Do you have any other insights to offer into how you use mathematics when skiing?
Keep calculations down, count on your team and yourself - more mathematic isn’t necessary when skiing.

Thank you Marcel and good luck for the season. Hope you do well at the Winter Olympics.

Website -
Twitter - @MarcelHirscher
Facebook - hirschermarcel

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