Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thin air no sweat for KU

Jayhawks not fearful of trip to high altitude

Kansas University cornerback Aqib Talib puts his grips around Colorado running back Hugh Charles while Buffaloes wide receiver Blake Mackey approaches the play in this file photo. Playboy Magazine named Talib to its preseason 2007 All-America team.

Kansas University cornerback Aqib Talib puts his grips around Colorado running back Hugh Charles while Buffaloes wide receiver Blake Mackey approaches the play in this file photo. Playboy Magazine named Talib to its preseason 2007 All-America team.

October 18, 2007

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Kerry Meier "do-it-all" athlete

A "utility man" usually refers to a baseball player that can fill in at any position. KU football team has its own do-it-all athlete in Kerry Meier. Enlarge video

KU football team heads to Boulder on Saturday

For the first time this season the Kansas football team will actually leave the state of Kansas to play a football game. Enlarge video

The key, Joe Mortensen preaches, is in the red blood cells.

Acquire more of those, and you may have the answer to enduring a 60-minute football game in the thin air of Boulder, Colo.

"How do you blood-dope?" joked Mortensen, Kansas University's middle linebacker.

Considering the legal consequences, Mortensen would rather not get involved with that. So the Jayhawks are doing other little things to get ready for the high elevation of Boulder, site of Saturday's 4:31 p.m. showdown between No. 15 Kansas and Colorado.

"We're trying to hold our breath when we're working out and squatting," Mortensen said. "Funky ways of doing it legally."

The question is, do the Jayhawks even need it?

Phil Gallagher doesn't think so. An assistant professor in exercise sciences at KU, Gallagher is educated in the differences between Kansas air and Colorado air. And he claims it's nothing for football players to be concerned with.

"The fact is, football's mostly an anaerobic sport, an explosive sport," Gallagher said. "If it was an endurance sport - if the cross country team was going there or the track team was going there or the swim team was going there - they may be at a slight disadvantage.

"Denver is right on the edge of being high enough to induce any type of problems, even for an endurance sport. If you're talking about explosive sports, they're really not going to be at any disadvantage whatsoever."

Boulder, which is about 30 miles northwest of Denver, sits some 5,400 feet above sea level (compared to about 850 feet for Lawrence).

That, according to Gallagher, makes the atmospheric pressure lower in Boulder, which means "the pressure that's forcing oxygen into our bloodstream is a little bit less than it is here in Lawrence."

Bodies adapt to such atmospheric changes, and CU athletes likely have an increased concentration of red blood cells just by training in Boulder.

Red blood cells transfer oxygen from the lungs to the muscles. For endurance sports at altitude, they're pretty important.

But for football, where players get to rest between plays or while the other unit is on the field, it's debatable how much the oxygen is at a premium.

"It's not a prolonged, constant sport like a running event would be," Gallagher said.

Maybe so, but some players still claim to feel the difference. KU senior tight end Derek Fine doesn't recall any past problems at Colorado, but he remembers traveling as a freshman in 2003 to Laramie, Wyo., (elevation 7,200 feet) for a nonconference game against Wyoming.

"I was in warmups and I couldn't catch my breath," Fine said, "and I wasn't even going to play in the game."

Never one to leave a stone unturned, KU coach Mark Mangino has examined and researched the possible effects Boulder's air might have on his players. Assistant coach Je'Ney Jackson played college football at Wyoming, and offensive assistants Ed Warinner and John Reagan both coached in Colorado at Air Force Academy (elevation 7,250 feet) in the past.

Together, they've come up with a solution. And it really isn't much of one at all.

"It boils down to just your team has got to be in good physical condition, and just stay hydrated," Mangino said. "There's all kind of theories about altitude. I've been going there for I don't know how many years now, and I don't remember any teams anywhere I coached that were tired and couldn't play at the end of the game."

So maybe, just maybe, all the talk about a home-air advantage for the Colorado football team is nothing but : well, hot air.

"If you're a well-conditioned team like we are," Mangino said, "then it's a non-issue."

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