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Improved Technology Can Lead to New Records for Athletic Performance

July 25, 2012


Improvements in technology have been one of the top ways to increase scores and even break some records at the Olympics and during other major sporting events.

For example, a recent report states that in 2008 swimmers broke 105 world records. Some 79 of those records were broken by swimmers who were wearing the Speedo LZR Racer. The racing suit optimizes hydrodynamics and body compression. Now the suits, and others like them, have been banned by FINA.

The ban comes after complaints were made stating that the LZR Racer suit was tantamount to “technological doping,” the report said. Speedo has made a new suit for this summer’s Olympics – which meets FINA guidelines.

In a new article in the August 2012 issue of Nature Materials, sports technology specialists claim most shifts in performance actually come about from breakthroughs in technology – rather than improved training or stronger athletes.

Consider the sport of pole vaulting. There are no restrictions over what materials vaulters can use. Historically, heights went up as technology improved. In 1896, American Bill Hoyt won by jumping 3.30 meters using a wooden pole. In 1950, athletes were using metal poles – and that is credited with giving them a half-meter more to set new records. More recently, poles made out of glass and carbon fiber led to the new record of 5.96 meters.

Improved technology on bicycles – from metal frames to carbon fiber frames – has led to quicker speeds, too. Athletic performance improved 221 percent over 111 years – with improved cycling technology.

Looking to the future, “multifunctional materials and adaptive technologies” could be very important to improve athletic performance, Nature Materials predicts.

“Recent developments make it possible for apparel to provide athletes and coaches with real-time feedback,” the article adds. “In 2011, the US sports brand UnderArmour launched a sports garment with an embedded heart-rate monitor and accelerometer capable of delivering diagnostic capabilities. Research at the University of Illinois shows the possibility of more integrated apparel sensors and epidermal electronics that could allow direct integration with the body. Their sensors enable monitoring of bodily functions and are both stretchable and flexible to conform to the skin surface without breaking under deformation. A similar technology to create flexible silicon substrates has been developed, and Reebok in collaboration with a company called mc10 is now attempting to integrate the thin electronic strips into athletic garments.”

In addition, integrated electronics in apparel could play an important role, too. Polymers, which respond to light, thermal or electrical changes, could affect athletes differently in workouts. Also, protection and safety could improve with the new materials. 

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Edited by Brooke Neuman