Sunny Sochi: How the warm weather is affecting Olympians
A woman enjoys warm weather prior to the men's 15K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. (AP / Gregorio Borgia)
Published Sunday, February 16, 2014 1:09PM EST
For some Olympic spectators, the warm weather in Sochi is a welcome changed from one of coldest winters North America has seen in decades.
But for the athletes in Sochi, the balmy temperatures could throw a wrench into their performances.
"In addition to all the psychological stress and performance stress, they now have to be figuring out what kind of equipment to be using, how to adapt their equipment to the temperatures and how they can perform in warmer temperatures, which is actually really hard on the human body," said University of Toronto physiologist Greg Wells.
Sochi's sub-tropical environment is experiencing unseasonably warm weather, which scientists have linked to an unusual and persistent kink in the jet stream – the river of air that normally runs west-to-east across the top of the globe.
Speaking to CTV News Channel on Sunday, Wells explained that while athletes had prepared themselves for Sochi's temperatures well ahead of the Games, a number of competitors came straight from the X Games in Aspen, Colo., which was significantly colder. "They haven't had a chance to adapt."
Wells also said part of the adaptation includes the body learning how to distribute blood more efficiently from the muscles to the skin to help dissipate the heat.
He pointed out that the cross-country skiing event, which has been most greatly affected by the warm weather, has seen athletes using different suits and equipment.
The warm weather has also forced certain scheduling changes, which Wells said can impact an athlete's performance.
"When athletes go to the Olympics, they're tuning their bodies to perform at the absolute limits of what they're capable of within hours, so it's been planned for years," he said. "If they have to adjust, and the time for their competition changes a day or two, it's actually not something you can adjust to."
In the men's snowboarding half pipe event, a number of competitors complained that the warmer temperatures made the snow too wet for ideal performances.
Wells said more-experienced athletes typically have an easier time adjusting to last-minute changes, but pointed out that conditions in Sochi are the same for all Olympians.
"The reality is there are always unusual things that happen at the Olympics and you have to be ready to adapt. And a lot of athletes are showing they can do that."