Heaviest skiers the fastest speed skiers?

Hey, Matt:

During the 1992 Winter Olympics, speed skiing was a demonstration sport. Speed skiing is just another name for schussing. Knowing some physics, I commented that this sport was silly because (all other things being equal) the heaviest skier would win. This brought dissention. To prove my point, I wanted to chart the speeds vs. weight of the contestants, but I couldn’t find the weights. Since then, many people have told me that the height and weight of all Olympic athletes are taken. Is this true? If so, when did it start and are the numbers available?

— Calif

We shouldn’t take to heart the lyrics of the Jethro Tull song “Fat Man”: “roll us both down a mountain/I’m sure the fat man would win.” It isn’t strictly true. The fat man only wins in that situation if the ratio of his mass to his frontal area is greater than the thin man’s. You’re right that “all other things being equal,” the heaviest skier would win in speed skiing, but when in life is anything equal? You didn’t ask me to weigh in on your point about the legitimacy of competitive schussing (although, how fun is that to say?), so I won’t bother since I have no investment in this matter. As for the biological data on Olympic athletes, the IOC doesn’t have the records you would seek. They have recorded the ages of athletes going back to the 1896 Athens Games, although the record is spotty in the early years. Your best bet for heights and weights of speed skiers is going to be from the International Ski Federation (fis-ski.com). That’s the governing body for skiing in general and it will be more likely to have in-depth biological data on skiers, from which you could construct a chart to confirm or deny your suspicions about the heaviest skier winning.

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It sounds like grounds for an experiment using students at Bandini Mountain.

No reason not to pick a bunch--of varying weights--and strap them into a set of roller skis for a fool-proof, Tull-approved acid test of the Alice Theory of Terminal Ski Velocity!

Perhaps a little inspiration from the following video?

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