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Olympics forces: The Physics of Olympic sports

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Topic goal: Write a paper on the science of one of the Olympic sports.

ELA goals: Develop your ability to “Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

Physics goals: Given real-world situations, identify the objects involved in the interaction, identify the pattern of motion; and explain & represent the forces with a free-body diagram.

You may choose any Olympic sport.  Suggested topics are offered below. Use the following template.

Olympic Forces Essay Template

Here a student created a free-body diagram, showing the forces on people in Karate.



https://www.olympic.org/sports and Olympic Sports article (Wikipedia)



Diving and swimming


BMX bicycles


Can runners benefit from drafting


Does the density of air, and altitude affect the ability to do a long jump


Gymnastics and stunts


Water drag and swimming




How the hammer throw is like a particle accelerator


Why is the iron cross so difficult?


PBS: The Olympics Mind and Body



The discus throw is a track and field event in which an athlete throws a heavy frisbee—called a discus—in an attempt to mark a farther distance than their competitors.

Discus throwing is an ancient sport, as demonstrated by the fifth-century-BC Myron statue, Discobolus. Although not part of the modern pentathlon, it was one of the events of the ancient Greek pentathlon, which can be dated back to at least to 708 BC.

There is a great scene of this in the classic film Jason and the Argonauts, 1963, directed by Don Chaffey with animation by Ray Harryhausen. In one scene Greek athletes compete to win spots on the ship Argo. This culminates in a challenge between Hercules (Nigel Green) and Hylas (John Cairney.) We can examine it here: Discus scene: Jason And The Argonauts

The physics of discus


Video: Physics behind discus throwing


Sports Science discus throw

Infographic: Sports science of discus

Re: what are the physics behind discus throwing?


The Physics behind discus


Rotational speed of a discus


Learning Standards

Massachusetts 2016 Science and Engineering Practices
8. Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Compare, integrate, and evaluate sources of information presented in different media or formats, as well as in words in order to address a scientific question or solve a problem.

Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g., about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats.

Next Generation Science Standards: Science and Engineering Practice: “Ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory to clarify relationships.” (HS-LS3-1)

Common Core

CCRA.R.1 – Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCRA.R.9 – Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

CCRA.W.7 – Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCRA.W.8 – Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCRA.W.9 – Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.


Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented.

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