I’m running errands today, so here’s a quick post picking up a question from last week’s Olympic physics hangout: What sport involves the least physics?
One of the kids in the classes we were video chatting with asked that, and I really like the question, though it was a struggle to answer. It’s one of those questions that will ultimately be like an excessively-zoomed-in data graph– whatever the answer, everything starts with a pretty high baseline of physics content, just because there’s physics in everything.
For the Winter Olympics, my original suggestion was ski jumping, thinking it was mostly just projectile motion. The other physicist in the discussion, Lawrence Norris disagreed, pointing out that air resistance and aerodynamics play a significant role. We ended up waffling a bit, and saying some cross-country skiing sort of event, implicitly bracketing off the whole question of extracting energy from food, etc. as “not physics” (part of that unavoidable baseline). The only physics-y issues there are air drag and sliding friction, which is probably as good as you’re going to get.
In the summer Olympics, I’d probably go with shot put, which really is just projectile motion (again, bracketing off the question of extracting energy and converting it to motion). A shot put in flight is basically your classic spherical mass, and it’s so dense that the air resistance forces are pretty negligible. So it’s pretty much just projectile motion.
But I might be missing something. So, what physical sport (a qualifier meant to exclude competitive activities like chess or poker that have math content, but don’t involve moving things) has the least physics content?
(A good heuristic for “least physics content” might be “least likely to prompt a blog post by me or Rhett explaining the physics behind some aspect of the sport in question.”)