Thursday, August 28, 2008
Records fall in Beijing, but how about London?
There were a total of 302 gold medals won and 38 world records set with 132 Olympic records broken and 43 world records fell during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. What is particularly remarkable about his is there has almost been no change in the major athletic world records since 1989. Experts have long accepted today’s athletes may have reached optimal power to weight ratio and subsequently were unlikely to top existing records however something has happened to question this hypothesis. Performance enhancing substances aside there has been a strong lobby in support of niche training and better nutrition to improve technique and endurance. Unlike athletics, swimming records have continued to fall and many attribute this to technical developments in swimwear. Whilst footwear manufacturers have eagerly attempted to shave records with shoe design innovations it appears to have met with little success. The fastest man on Earth, Usain Bolt (Jamaica) put on a brilliant performance wearing a “No Frills” pair of running shoes. Performance enhancing sport shoes which contain springs continue to be banned. According the United States of America Track and Field governing body, Rule 71 states: ‘the purpose of shoes for competition is to give protection and stability to the feet and a firm grip to the ground. Such shoes, however, must not be constructed so as to give the competitor any additional assistance, and no spring or device of any kind may be incorporated in the shoes.’ Spring shoes are not classed as costume but equipment which is banned from International competitions. The recent controversy which surrounded double amputee, Oscar Pistorius’s carbon-fibre protheses i.e. Cheetahs flex foot prostheses, presents a very interesting precedent. Whilst he failed to qualify for the Olympics the ruling he may compete with now open the door to spring shoes in competition in the future. UK Sport is the governing body that directs the development of British sport and in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics they have enlisted a diverse range of companies and academics whose fields of expertise engulf enhancing sporting performance. There is a reported £100m being invested per year into preparations for the 2012 summer Olympics and the 2010 Vancouver winter Olympics and £1.5m has been earmarked annually for developing new technology. One of the main focus of research is developing new ways to train, to recover and how to best measure performance. Information is scant for obvious reason but one of the main projects will involve the use of selective laser sintering to custom sprint spikes for athletes. By tuning the longitudinal bending stiffness characteristics of sprint spikes to the physical characteristics of the athlete it is hoped to increase mechanical energy at the ankle.