Friday, February 4, 2011

Periodic Table of Triathlon

I'm pretty sure Dmitri Mendeleev was a triathlete, despite the obvious liability that he died a good 70 years before the sport was invented. A little known fact: Mendeleev's Periodic Table of Elements was originally called the 'Periodic Table of Triathlon' but he was under pressure by the Russian government to focus his efforts on chemical and physical understanding in lieu of multisport.

History has a way of obscuring the details, so allow me to enlighten you... Dmitri Mendeleev was born to a poor family in Russia and is believed to be one of 14 siblings, 12 of which were triathletes. Since he was the youngest, he struggled to gain attention of his parents and older siblings, many of whom had moved on from local sprint raced up to as much as a 70.3. Mendeleev had bigger aspirations.

One day in St. Petersburg, there was a race, which was supposed to be the inaugural Ironman Russia (it never fully materialized). Mendeleev was an intern in charge of recording times and places of finishers. Since ChampionChip refused to provide timing for the event, Dmitri was forced to record data manually. He devised a system in which he would record the initials of the finishers and the amount of time after the leader (in seconds) in which they crossed the line. He was working solo and was not able to catch all of the data but still managed to put much of the information into a finishers chart.

Finishers Chart with some gaps

This gig did not lead to permanent employment with the WTC due to all the missing data and Mendeleev had to hunt for a job. Since he was poor, Dmitri took a job researching food products for the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. His work there was intended to discover the hidden secrets buried in food and to explain why the University of Florida football players were such pansies in practice. Through careful analysis of bloodwork from football players, Mendeleev was able to isolate the first known evidence of carbohydrates, proteins, and electrolytes in pure forms. His work yielded inconclusive data, but the GSSI CEO's were able to spin the numbers in their favor. According to a Gatorade Sports Science Institute press release:
"The weather and other climatic conditions caused the heavy sweaters on the University football team to increase the release of glucose and sodium. This was later confirmed by lowered hematocrits as compared to the control group. Thanks to the work of senior scientists, we have drafted a beverage in an effort to replace these vital nutrients. We shall call this brew 'Gatorade' in honor of the Institute."
"Take it off," -Dmitri
Well, Dmitri was flabbergasted that his name was omitted from the release. He had serious issues with the content as well. First, the 'heavy sweaters' in his caution to the football team were actual sweaters made of polyester and emblazoned with the school's logo. The football team was exceptionally proud of their school and refused to stop showing their spirit, even in the high heat and humidity of the Florida climate. Second, Dmitri was dumbfounded that the 'control group' the CEOs spoke of were the Gators' Championship Hot Dog Eating Team. Back then, the NCAA had less stringent rules as to what qualified as a sport and the GatorDogs practiced daily. Everyone in the universe had lower glucose and sodium. Third, when Dmitri concocted his sports drink, the original name was Placeboade, in honor that the drink did not actually do anything for you other than give you water as the amounts of sodium and glucose were too low to make a difference in your blood. Fourth, Dmitri hated that he was being paid to hawk a product that he invented as good science. He was quoted in an analogy saying, "If the Beef Producers of America hired me to invent a cow-based beverage and claim that it cures cancer, people would be suspicious. It should be tested and evaluated before being put to market." He believed that such testing should be done by independent labs to provide reliable data. Regardless, no such testing was ever done by an organization outside of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. *Note- the team actually did remove their sub-sweaters and consequently won several National Championships. The Americans were sold on the hype of the drink and have been so ever since.  Dmitri was later released due to confidential reasons.

Ironically, Mendeleev took his notes and dignity back to Russia where he worked in an independent lab. His non-disclosure agreement along with his non-competitive agreement forced him to abandon the hopes of negating the Gatorade legacy. He dropped his dreams of making a miracle elixir that could help himself compete at the 140.6 distance so he went back to less important problems, such as inventing, isolating, and predicting elementals based on physical and chemical properties. He later had children who went on to succeed at the Iron distance. Some of his descendants were rumored to relocate to Germany and may have given rise to the al Sultan clan. You decide:
Dmitri Mendeleev

Faris al Sultan

So there you have it.


  1. I found your link through ST and followed it. I'll be racing in LP this year too and it looks like we are the same AG...opps! Over the past few years I've made several tri friends from Rochester area that are team members of Train This and Mary Eggers. I know she runs a training camp in LP in the spring. Anyway, thanks for the entertainment on a Sunday morning.


  2. Ryan- I look forward to the competition and thanks for reading Tri-Banter. Hopefully, you'll be back. I know of Mary and her husband Curt, though I doubt they know of me. In the Rochester area, they are giants and I am a peon. I might make an effort to know them better. I can only benefit. At the very least, see you in July. Good luck at IMLP