Champions Trophy: British women fight the climate in Argentina
FIH Champions Trophy
- Venue: Rosario, Argentina
- Date: 28 January-5 February 2012
Coverage: All GB matches live on BBC red button with highlights available on BBC Sport website (UK users only).
Playing hockey in 40C temperatures is no fun. Doing it twice in 24 hours, including a game against the Olympic champions, verges on horrible.
"I'm disgusted that we're being asked to play in such high temperatures. It's dangerous and wrong," said Danny Kerry, coach of the GB women's team, after they fought back to a 2-2 draw with Beijing 2008 gold medallists the Netherlands.
Dave Hamilton GB strength and conditioning coach
“The fitter you are, the better your body's ability to adapt and thermoregulate. But it's still difficult”
We are halfway through this year's Champions Trophy and Britain have yet to lose a game, but that is no thanks to the schedulers, who have sent the team out into the mid-afternoon Argentina sun on all three occasions to date.
The hosts, by contrast, have played at 2000 local time each night, when temperatures in the city of Rosario - if not cool - have at least dropped.
How do you cope with playing world-class sport, day after day, in conditions as extreme by British standards as those?
Strength and conditioning coach Dave Hamilton, packed off from the English Institute of Sport to join the team on their trip, is the man whose job it is to worry about that. One of the solutions involves steak - but first, the science.
"Playing in the mid-afternoon heat is a massive disadvantage. It really limits your physical potential," he explains over the phone from the team hotel in Rosario.
"You have two ways to cool yourself. One is a sweating mechanism and one is where your blood comes to the surface of your skin, then uses heat exchange to get your core temperature down.
"When the temperature outside becomes equal to, or above, your body temperature, then that exchange disappears and all you're left with is sweating. It's a real limitation on all the players. The fitter you are, the better your body's ability to adapt and thermoregulate. But it's still difficult."
Everybody knows an ice bath is the fast road to recovery in similar conditions these days and the British team are no stranger to those. But Hamilton's job has extended far beyond that. He believes his team's ability to bounce back in sweltering climes is a result of several years' work. It is now hardwired into them.
"I'm confident that the heat is not going to become a factor for us," he says, "because of the way we've prepared ourselves. Not just this year, but last year and the year before. That will not become one of the variables that determines the outcome of a game.
"We try to keep everything as consistent as possible. We have recovery protocols that we've always used for all our tournaments and they don't change. Those are geared towards relaxing the girls.
"And behind that is long-term development, over three or four years, building on the work capacity of the squad. That can't be done with just one year's training, it has to be multiple years completed and that's where I believe our advantage potentially lies over other nations."
Having roasted in their matches against Japan and the Netherlands, temperatures dipped for Britain's third and final group game versus China and are set to remain in the comparatively mild mid-20s for their quarter-final with South Korea on Thursday.
However, the forecast for the weekend - when Britain will definitely be back out on the pitch, whether playing for gold or seventh place - rockets back into the high 30s and beyond.
The vast majority of the team were brought to Argentina two weeks ahead of the competition in order to acclimatise to the conditions, playing a warm-up event in Cordoba - a five-hour bus trip away - where early-evening games provided an ideal introduction to Argentine heat.
Four players, though, were left to continue training in Britain before joining their counterparts for the Champions Trophy. Those four made use of a sophisticated climate chamber to replicate the same conditions.
"We had the main group going to Cordoba but for the four coming out later, we used the acclimation chamber at Bisham Abbey national sports centre," explains Hamilton.
"We put them in a room, took it to the same environment they'll play in here, then got them doing activities that replicate hockey match-play. They did that for a number of days."
It all sounds like hard work. There is, at least, one advantage to those "recovery protocols" Hamilton has put in place. One of them happens to be steak and the team descended on a local steakhouse in the aftermath of the Dutch game.
"I think, a lot of the time, recovery comes down to how you feel," says Hamilton. "And if you enjoy a good steak, chances are your body's going to like a good steak. You'll feel better for it. It's almost that simple."