Recovery Matters- Manaus and the Focus on Recovery at the Olympics

As I mentioned a few weeks prior to the Olympics, this year’s games will have a strong emphasis on rest and recovery for athletes. From staying in lavish cruise ships to using ancient Chinese therapies, our athletes are willing to do anything to get an advantage. The latest has been an increased focus on recovery. A fresher body simply performs at a higher level.

So, what have we seen so far?

The US Olympic Men’s and Women’s basketball teams are staying at their own exclusive luxury cruise ship: LINK.

Swimmers and other athletes are using cupping, an ancient Chinese therapy, to aid with blood flow and stiffness.

The volleyball players are covered like caution tape at a crime scene in kinesiotape.

Our gymnasts are using a bio-compression leg wrapping system to aid in the recovery period to slowly remove lactic acid and to rebuild muscle fibers.

The focus and intent is obviously there, but what happens when athletes’ do not properly recover?

After the US Women’s Soccer team’s stunning defeat to Sweden last week, most pointed to recovery as the reason. Why? It was mostly due to the US Women’s team’s previous match in Manaus, Brazil. That city may sound familiar to soccer fans as there was backlash for using the facility in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The facility in Manaus is gorgeous and made for soccer, but there’s one issue: it is incredibly far from Rio and is a tough destination to reach with it being in the heart of the Amazon.

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This location is the equivalent to teams playing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games and having to travel to events in Seattle, Washington within the same week. This is unacceptable as the host city is Rio de Janeiro and not a city that is over 4200 km away that takes two days to drive. Some complained that the Chicago Olympic Bid included nearby cities’ facilities with the University of Illinois- Urbana Champaign’s facilities being ones that were suggested. That’s a 3-hour drive from Chicago to Champaign compared to a 55-hour drive from Manaus to Rio.

The distance in travel isn’t the only thing that may have affected the team’s recovery. Playing in the Amazon, where humidity and heat are both higher than Rio’s average, produces an uneven playing advantage for those participants using that facility. Recovery from activity in these areas take longer. It is hard enough to peak athletically without the playing environment changing throughout the week. Humidity and heat drain athletes and can require higher levels of post-game recovery. The schedule for the soccer games did not take this into consideration or reflect the science.

Rest and recovery does matter and when elements are presented to athletes that may hinder or impact that, the result is often shown in performance. We may have seen this with the US Women’s Soccer Team. The travel and the impact of playing in the heat could have produced a “downtick” in performance. After the 2014 FIFA World Cup, we discussed in class that this facility should not be used in the Olympics citing player performance as the main reason. It’s just unfortunate that our US Women’s Soccer Team may be the causality of this logistical issue.

About Dr. Zachary Binkley

Zachary W. Binkley, PhD is the former Assistant Professor and Program Director of Exercise and Movement Science Program. He is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Special Interest Group on Basketball.

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