London 2012: Discus Physics

Like the javelin, the discus throw is an athletic event dating back to the ancient Olympics.  Competitors are limited to a 2.5 m circle from which they throw, leading to the sometimes elaborate forms used by athletes to generate a large velocity and angular momentum upon release. The flight of the discus is significantly dependent on aerodynamics, as the discus flies at an angle of attack. Spin helps stabilize its flight both dynamically and by creating a turbulent boundary layer along the surface which helps prevent separation and stall. Unlike many other events, a headwind is actually advantageous in the discus throw because it increases the relative velocity between the airflow and the discus, thereby increasing lift. The headwind also increases the drag force on the discus, but research shows the benefits of the increased lift outweigh the effects of increased drag, so much so that a discus flies further in air than it would in a vacuum. (Photo credits: P Kopczynski, Wiki Commons, EPA/K Okten)

FYFD is celebrating the Olympics by featuring the fluid dynamics of sports. Check out our previous posts, including why corner kicks swerve, what makes a pool fast, how an arrow flies, and how divers avoid splash.

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