In some athletic races, such as cycling and types of speed skating races, athletes have to complete a relatively long distance at a high speed in the presence of direct opponents. To win such a race, athletes are motivated to hide behind others to suppress energy consumption before a final moment of the race. This situation seems to produce a social dilemma: Players want to hide behind others, whereas if a group of players attempts to do so, they may all lose to other players that overtake them. To support that speed skaters are involved in such a social dilemma, we analyzed video footage data for 14 mass start skating races to find that skaters that hid behind others to avoid air resistance for a long time before the final lap tended to win. Furthermore, the finish rank of the skaters in mass start races was independent of the record of the same skaters in time-trial races measured in the absence of direct opponents. The results suggest that how to strategically cope with a skater's dilemma may be a key determinant for winning long-distance and high-speed races with direct opponents.
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