High-Tech Edge Sharpens Olympic Games

    Australia's Steven Hooker, seen here at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin in 2009, used a pole made from carbon fibers to capture the gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
    Australia's Steven Hooker, seen here at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin in 2009, used a pole made from carbon fibers to capture the gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
    Rosanne Skirble
    At the very first Olympic Games, in 1896, an American won a gold medal in the pole vault event after jumping 3.30 meters using a wooden pole.

    Four years ago in Beijing, an Australian won gold in the same event with a 5.96-meter jump. The pole he used was lighter and stronger and made from carbon fibers.  

    When the 2012 Olympic games begin later this month in London, athletes will not only be better-trained than ever before, but also better-equipped.

    “What we have seen really is nothing short of a revolution, particularly in the use of advanced materials, integrated with engineering design,” says Michael Caine, a professor of sports technology at Loughborough University in England.  

    Breaking records

    He says athletes with lighter and stronger bats, rackets and golf clubs can hit balls further, harder or with more spin. Often these engineering innovations can be tracked by the records in the sport.  

    Until the Beijing Games in 2008, there was an average of 22 record-breaking performances during each Olympiad. At the Beijing Games, 108 new records were set. Caine says in swimming, 94 percent of the races were won by athletes wearing full-body swimsuits made with engineered materials. 
    American Olympic medalists Amanda Beard, left, Natalie Coughlin, right, and Michael Phelps pose in the high-tech Speedo LZR Racer swimsuits worn at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.American Olympic medalists Amanda Beard, left, Natalie Coughlin, right, and Michael Phelps pose in the high-tech Speedo LZR Racer swimsuits worn at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
    x
    American Olympic medalists Amanda Beard, left, Natalie Coughlin, right, and Michael Phelps pose in the high-tech Speedo LZR Racer swimsuits worn at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
    American Olympic medalists Amanda Beard, left, Natalie Coughlin, right, and Michael Phelps pose in the high-tech Speedo LZR Racer swimsuits worn at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

    “Which was making the athletes’ hydrodynamics much superior [than] with previous suits," Caine says. "And you could see that in the times that were set and the number of world records that were falling.”  

    This ignited a debate over what Caine calls "technological doping," that materials - like those in the swimsuit - give the 'haves' an unfair advantage over the 'have-nots.'  The governing body for swimming later banned the special suits from competition.

    “Of course if you have technology dominating, or if you have a technology that’s limited to richer nations, then the ethos of fair competition comes into question,” Caine says.

    Boosting performance

    While the full body swimsuits made a big splash in Beijing, new equipment won’t be as visible in London. Most of the technological innovations boosting athletic performance are more evident during the training process.

    “For monitoring and feedback between the coach and the athletes," Caine says. "We’ve seen a huge amount of advance in miniaturization of sensors, in wireless technologies, in the way athletes communicate with their performance teams, in the way we monitor an athlete’s recovery from a training program, in the way we look at their nutritional status and make changes to what they are eating and drinking and so on.”
    High-Tech Edge Sharpens Olympic Competition
    High-Tech Edge Sharpens Olympic Competitioni
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X


    The materials engineered for elite athletes, like the strong, flexible carbon fiber used in clubs, rackets and bikes, have also found a solid foothold in the market place. They are common components in cars and airplanes and have been incorporated into the design of modern wheelchairs.  

    Motion tracking is another sports-training innovation.

    “It was developed for monitoring the swing profile of tennis players and golfers," Caine says. "It is now being used for stroke rehabilitation, where you can look at the gait patterns of the patient and how closely they are to a normal gait pattern.”
        
    Despite the boost these innovations can give an athlete’s performance, Caine says what he hopes to see in London is that the best, most dedicated athletes win.  Writing in Nature Materials, he adds, “The need to balance innovation and tradition in sport is set to remain an enduring and compelling challenge.”

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.