How Rusten­burg’s high al­ti­tude will race hearts, burn lungs

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - BY PAUL BENT­LEY

JOHN TERRY spoke this week of hav­ing to deal with dry mouth caused by al­ti­tude. This is just one of many prob­lems that could face play­ers dur­ing to­day’s game against the USA.

The Royal Bafo­keng Sta­dium is set at al­most 1 500 me­tres – an al­ti­tude sim­i­lar to many Euro­pean ski re­sorts.

The air is thin­ner, mean­ing fewer oxy­gen mol­e­cules are in­haled with ev­ery breath. As the body works hard to com­pen­sate, breath­ing and heart rate in­crease and lev­els of glu­cose, needed for en­ergy, go down.

Play­ing at al­ti­tude can af­fect foot­ballers no mat­ter how fit they are.

In fact, play­ers in top phys­i­cal con­di­tion may be more vul­ner­a­ble than or­di­nary peo­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to Richard Pul­lan, di­rec­tor of London’s Al­ti­tude Cen­tre, play­ers process oxy­gen like sports cars use petrol – quickly but not as ef­fi­ciently as oth­ers.

Brain: De­ci­sion-mak­ing may be im­paired and re­ac­tion times slowed, mak­ing Terry more likely to mist­ime chal­lenges and mis­place passes. At 1 500 me­tres, oxy­gen in­take re­duces by 16.5 per­cent, af­fect­ing cog­ni­tive func­tions. Play­ers may also find it harder to sleep, sap­ping en­ergy.

Nose: Si­nuses can play up, lead­ing to runny noses and headaches, which could hin­der per­for­mances across the pitch. The air will be drier, de­hy­drat­ing air­ways.

Mouth: Play­ers will need to drink more to avoid feel­ing de­hy­drated; Terry re­vealed how the thin air at al­ti­tude made play­ers’ mouths dry.

Heart: Per­for­mances could fade in the sec­ond half. Frank Lam­pard, who likes to cover the length of a pitch, will find his body tires quicker than usual as his heart has to work harder to pump blood and the oxy­gen it holds around the body. Play­ers’ hearts will beat be­tween five and 10 times faster than usual.

Lungs: Play­ers will run out of breath quicker. With fewer oxy­gen par­ti­cles in the air, they will have to in­hale more of­ten to get air to their lungs.

Blad­der: Play­ers may need the toi­let dur­ing games. Uri­nat­ing is more fre­quent at al­ti­tude as it en­ables the body to re­ab­sorb bi­car­bon­ate, which changes the acid level in the blood and helps re­lease oxy­gen around the body.

Skin: Balls may slip out of play­ers’ hands when tak­ing throw-ins and sweat may drip into their eyes – be­cause the body is un­der more stress than usual, mak­ing skin un­usu­ally clammy.

Mus­cles: Full­backs Ashley Cole and Glen John­son may find it dif­fi­cult to cover the length of the by­line. As the body works hard to main­tain oxy­gen and glu­cose lev­els, limbs will burn and feel heav­ier, re­ac­tion times will slow and it will take longer to re­cover af­ter games. Led­ley King, take note.

Feet: Play­ers’ boots will feel tight, af­fect­ing ball con­trol. Feet of­ten swell at al­ti­tude be­cause the air pres­sure out­side will be lower than the pres­sure of oxy­gen in­side the body.

The ball: Balls will move faster, which could catch goal­keep­ers out. This is due to the re­duced den­sity of the at­mos­phere. Wayne Rooney will find the ball has less time to dip and curves less, with the ef­fects of drag

and spin re­duced.

Changes in al­ti­tude: Af­ter to­day’s game, Eng­land play Al­ge­ria next Fri­day at sea level in Cape Town. It is the change in al­ti­tude that could be a prob­lem. Re­search shows that when teams from al­ti­tude de­scend to play away, they are less likely to win than other teams who play at sea level.

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