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The Science of Sport: Altitude performance implications

a free-kick struck from 30m out with spin, would be expected to curve a total distance of 4m when playing at sea-level.  At altitude, because the air density is reduced (in Johannesburg, on a cold night, it would be around 20% lower), the forces acting on the ball are different.  The end result is that a ball will fly faster and further, and also deviate LESS than at sea-level. 

How much less?  Some calculations show that the ball may move 60cm less in Johannesburg than at sea-level.  It will also "dip" less, which is why it would be so much more difficult to get up and over the wall, but down in time for the goals.  So when you see yet another free kick fly over by a meter, partly blame the altitude

So consider a striker who tries to bend the ball around the wall and into the goals from a free-kick – he misses by 50cm to the right.  That was a goal at sea-level.  At altitude, he blames the ball…


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