Over the past 2 decades, developments in technology have completely reshaped the sports’ industry, advances ranging from detailed analysis of performance data to the biomechanics of how the human body moves. This has led to both huge increases in the quality of coaching and athletic performance, resulting in old records constantly being broken and new ones being set. Furthermore, this new technology has meant that athletic health can be maintained and observed, whilst injuries can be treated more quickly. But has this made sport too high-tech?
Firstly, cycling has always been a sport hugely affected by air resistance and as science has shown, at top speed, 90% of a competitive cyclist's energy is used on battling air resistance. Consequently, this has meant that any change in the technology within aerodynamics is likely to have a great impact on the athlete’s performance. This was demonstrated most effectively by the change in Great Britain's medal count over the last 3 Olympic Games. In 2004, Britain won just 4 medals for cycling, but in 2008 the team won 14 medals, a success which many people believe was down to the change in aerodynamics and bike structure. Furthermore, in 2012, the team won a respectable 9 medals, (4 ahead of 2nd-placed Australia for track cycling) continuing to dominate the velodrome.
Nanotechnology has also impacted the world of sport, particularly for swimmers. After the Beijing Olympics, competition rules had to be changed, due to new high-tech swimsuits, which were having a great effect on race times. Swimmers at Beijing wore the Speedo LZR trunks which were made from Nylon-Elastane, an incredibly light material, helping to keep the swimmer’s lower body floating. As a result, when swimmers are tired, they do not create as much drag as they used to. In addition, it was the very tight material that helped to compress the swimmer’s body into a more streamlined shape.
Not only has sporting technology influenced air resistance and drag, but the equipment for racquet sports has also been changed dramatically. The introduction of co-polyester strings has meant that players can hit the ball with more power by increasing their topspin. As Andre Agassi once commented in his memoir, Open: “ the advent of a new elastic co-polyester string, which creates vicious spin, has turned average players into greats, and greats into legends". On top of this, the racquet head has also been changed. The more sizeable racquet head has meant that the “sweet spot” is larger, resulting in a reduction of the amount of energy required to hit each shot. This means that upon impact, players now hit the ball much harder. Although at first, the larger racquet heads created weight issues, these problems were eliminated by changing the racquet material from steel to a graphite and foam mixture. As well as creating longer rallies, faster serves and overall better more competitive players, this technology has also helped to reduce injuries in the sport. Originally “tennis elbow” was an injury that caused many players to retire, an injury which stemmed from impact vibrations. New technology has introduced adaptations to help absorb the vibrations, reducing the number of injuries.
Not everyone believes that the advances in technology have been beneficial to sport, as some say that it has created unfair advantages within each discipline. However, many argue that if everyone is wearing the same high tech swimsuits and using the same tennis racquets, then there is still a fair competition. So the only real conclusion we can take from the debate of sporting technology is that whilst some deem such advances to be unfair, the actual quality of competition has been increased immensely. The sporting world looks forward to what further advances are to come.
Image sourced under the Creative Commons License.