Swimmer’s Algorithm?

How many of you watched the Olympics in Rio?  :raises hand:  I wasn’t obsessed with it, but I definitely watched the highlights like men’s swimming and women’s gymnastics.  I caught a little bit of the doubles kayaking (not sure what it’s officially called), thanks to the TV on the stationary bike at the gym.  Oh, and I also showed some of the archery to my son, who is finally taking some lessons after years of interest.

The most interesting to me was the men’s swimming.  And before you go to thinking that it had to do with the swimsuits, just stop right there.  😀  I actually prefer human specimens to be covered.  A full-body wet suit looks way better than a Speedo bikini.  But, anyhoo, I digress.  I watched the swimming in fascination of the athletes and what they might accomplish this year.  As usual, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte certainly impressed.  And, in the women’s swimming, who could ignore Katie Ledecky?!  Her races became something to follow, and I will likely find myself a fan of women’s swimming in the future.  You go, girl!

But, as I watched these incredible performances, I couldn’t help to wonder if the odds were stacked in favor of some swimmers and against other swimmers.  From a casual glance, it appears that they all are on a level playing field.  They have fancy swimsuits, caps, and goggles.  They have the same starting blocks and signals.  They are all in the same pool.  But, what about the lanes?  Does the position in the pool make a difference?  In these races, I quickly got a gut feeling that it did.  And, I got to wondering what determined a swimmer’s position in the pool.  It seemed like Phelps and Lochte were often in the middle lanes?  But then, not always?

Imagine my pleasure and surprise, then, when I surfed Facebook today and came across this posting by the MAA.

Charts Clearly Show Some Swimmers Had Unfair Advantage

Seems my gut feeling was onto something.  I was nowhere near working out the mathematics of it, but this is quite interesting.  And, as a friend commented, it might make a good undergraduate research project for someone.  There’s still some math to be found!  I am eager to see their further findings down the road.  I have taken up swimming as part of my exercise routine, and I definitely notice a difference when I am in the pool alone versus with others.  I also notice a difference in what part of the pool I am using.  With too many people in the pool, there’s an erratic current to fight.  Surely 8 lanes of swimmers will have some effect on the water patterns?  It’s time for those versed in fluid dynamics to figure it out!