The limits of athletic performance have long been a topic of debate, and human performance has time and again exceeded what was considered the limit of human capacity. So are we getting better as a human race?
Technology has made an enormous difference in all sports, from faster skis to lighter shoes. For example, in swimming, Speedo's full-body LZR swimsuit, based on technology developed by NASA, reduced the skin friction drag by 24 percent, compressed the torso, and trapped air to provide extra buoyancy. It was introduced at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and helped swimmers break almost 100 world records in 18 months. However, these swimsuits were subsequently banned in 2010.
The modern pole vault involves energy exchange from the athlete to the pole and back again. Bamboo was last used in a world record by Cornelius Warmerdam in 1942. Around 1945, metal poles were introduced, which improved the performance. In 1961 athletes started using glass fiber poles, which allowed poles to transfer energy efficiently, resulting in athletes breaking the world record 19 times in a decade. However, this has levelled off over time, and the sport is awaiting the next technological breakthrough.
The Javelin throw has become a very technical sport, requiring perfect coordination of the body and the mind. It combines short-burst running, releasing, and recovery with the force of a cheetah but with the grace of a ballet dancer to get the perfect projectile and distance.
Early versions of the javelin had the center of mass at the halfway point.
In 1984, German legend Uwe Hohn ( who was one of the coaches of Neeraj Chopra) threw a distance of 104.8 metres to set a world record. Hohn remains the only man to have thrown the javelin over 100 metres. And this record may never be broken. A change in rules in 1986 required the javelin with the center of mass being moved 40 mm forward to make the javelin land tip first. After the change of rule, the world record decreased from 104.8 metres to 85.7 metres in the next two years.
Tennis has evolved from the days of wooden racquets and lawn tennis to an era of ace serves and graphite racquets designed for players to achieve maximum speed and power. The players train with connected racquets that allow players and their coaches to analyze every move a player makes during training.
Technology is being deployed in various sports to analyze human movement. Athletes wear sensors placed on the body that provide real-time information to the trainer's tablet and accurately pinpoints motion. This has revolutionized sports training with live-tracking, perfecting movements, and reducing injuries. Almost any parameter can be measured, from breathing and heart rate to hydration and temperature.
Neeraj Chopra, the winner of the Olympic gold medal, was trained by the German biomechanics expert Dr. Klaus Bartonietz. Bartonietz helped analyze each phase of Neeraj's javelin throw and then improved Neeraj's technique leading to the gold medal.
Anticipating and intercepting a fast-approaching object is a critical skill for many sports. In racket sports, the player's brain analyses the trajectory of the ball in split seconds. Also, the player has to keep the ball in focus as the player is herself moving. This is possible as humans have an efficient image stabilizing mechanism involving the inner ear and the brain.
Vision training is a newer sports technology aimed at improving reflexes, cognitive function, and visual accuracy. NeuroEquilibrium is the world's largest chain of Dizziness and Balance disorder clinics. The NeuroEquilibrium team has developed technologies that athletes can use to enhance gaze stabilization and precision, improve focusing during head movement, and raise postural control.
The progression of sports performance happens in spurts and is a direct outcome of technological innovations. Understanding what the human body is truly capable of opens the doors to make athletes stronger, faster, bolder, and better than ever.
(Rajneesh Bhandari is Founder- NeuroEquilibrium)
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