Rio 2016: Late competition times may put some Olympic athletes at a disadvantage

The Canada vs. Latvia Beach Volleyball game didn't end until 1:09 a.m. local time. AP Photo/Petr David Josek

Depending on where you’re from, you might have an advantage in the Rio Olympics, thanks to the late schedules for certain sports.

Beach Volleyball players, for example, have matches starting as late as midnight local time and can keep going until the wee hours of the morning. Canada’s match against Latvia didn’t end until 1:09 a.m. (12:09 a.m. ET) Tuesday morning. Some swim finals don’t start until 10:30 p.m.


It’s a challenge for athletes who are used to playing during the day.

“It’s a long, long day,” U.S. Beach Volleyball teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings told the Salt Lake Tribune.

“Playing at midnight is a certain kind of challenge, [but] it brings out something great in us.”

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It’s both a challenge and a disadvantage, Dr. Amy Bender, sleep scientist with Calgary’s Centre for Sleep and Human Performance told Global News.

READ MORE: Rio 2016: Sexist coverage highlights challenges facing women in sport

She said recent research showed West Coast teams (who are used to staying up later) have an advantage over East Coast teams on schedules like these.

“If you’re competing at a time when you’d normally be sleeping … you’re not as alert, you’re sleepier, and biologically your body temperature drops,” she said in a phone interview.

Bender worked with the Canadian Olympic Swimming team and made recommendations on how to make sure their bodies are ready.

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First, she said, the athletes should make changes to their sleep schedules gradually, going to bed about one hour later every night, and sleeping in the same amount of time. She recommend they start four days before the Olympics.

Canadian swimmer Ryan Cochrane told the Canadian Press that the 10:30 p.m. start times for finals weren’t “ideal,” but he wasn’t worried about his performance.

READ MORE: Rio 2016: Canada’s Santo Condorelli aims for the podium in 100-metre freestyle swim

“At the same time, you’re going to be so amped up on race day it could be three in the morning, it doesn’t matter what time, you’d still get the performances.”

Bender said that while an adrenaline rush will help initially, it might not last.

“How much that adrenaline can be maintained throughout the match or the game is questionable, she said. “But it will eventually catch up with them and they’ll feel more tired as the match goes on.”

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