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Massey man helps footballers prepare for Olympics

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Massey man helps footballers prepare for Olympics

Body cooling gel, gas masks, ice baths, compression stockings and a tonne of nutritional snacks will all be in the luggage of sport scientist Dr Andrew Foskett as he accompanies the New Zealand men’s football squad, the Oly-Whites, to the 2008 Olympic Games in China.

Dr Foskett says being appointed as sport scientist for the first New Zealand football squad to go to the Olympics is “a dream role”, which allows him to combine his academic knowledge with a passion for football at the world’s ultimate sporting event.

The biggest challenge for athletes going to China will be adapting to the heat of 30 to 35deg, and humidity of 90 to 95 per cent, as well as China’s much-publicised air pollution, he says. Normal summer humidity in Auckland is in the high 70s.

The 25-strong squad, including 18 players, will play several practice games in Australia, followed by two weeks of acclimatisation in Indonesia where the climate is similar to that of China.

The squad then has a week in China before the first games in Shenyang against China on August 7 and Brazil on August 10. The team then faces Belgium in Shanghai on August 13.

Dr Foskett, a lecturer at the Exercise and Sports Division of the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health in Auckland, says although the media has focused on the problem of China’s severe air pollution and its impact on athletes, he is also mindful of the effects of oppressive heat and humidity on the football squad in his care.

Like all other New Zealand athletes attending the games, football team members are being urged to wear protective masks while travelling to prevent them catching flu or other bugs, and to wear carbon filter masks in China to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution.

“Athletes are more susceptible to catching bugs when they’re at peak fitness,” Dr Foskett says.

During games, players will wear special vests soaked in a cooling gel originally formulated for racehorses to delay the onset of fatigue caused by overheating.

“Fluid loss in football is normally between one and three litres per hour. But with the challenging environmental conditions and intense physical activity, the players are potentially going to be at the upper end of fluid losses – possibly in excess of four and a half litres per match,” says Dr Foskett, a UK former semi-professional footballer who has also played in the National League in New Zealand.

He will also provide coaching support with post-match recovery logistics and technical analysis of player performance using specially developed computer software.

He is “very excited” about the forthcoming trip. “It’s the pinnacle of sport. For the players, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because it’s an under-23 tournament.”

The under-23 age restriction is to avoid too many professional players being involved because it runs counter to the amateur concept of the Olympics, he says. Olympic football teams are, however, allowed to include three over-23 players, and the Oly-Whites are pleased they will have elite New Zealand footballer Ryan Nelsen, currently star central defender for the English Blackburn Rovers club, for the first two of their three games in China.

Dr Foskett says the Olympics are a “huge shop window” for international football scouts seeking new talent for what is one of the world’s most lucrative sports.

The team qualified in Fiji to represent Oceania, and is one of 16 teams in the competition.


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