And so sport threw out her pig skin boots and ran off into the artificial grass never to return and technology kept whispering, Let’s go further... Let's go faster...
Anyway, here’s how technology is being used in sport:
Technology in... Clothing
The Speedo LZR Racer swimsuit
Whatever your choice of sport be sure of one thing: Technology wants to wear you. In the last Olympics it was Speedo’s LZR Racer bodysuit that caused a splash in the swimming pool. Developed in association with NASA and the Australian Institute of Sport the space age swimsuit featured an elastene-nylon and polyurethane material especially woven to make the
human body as hydrodynamic as a shark's belly. Plus the LZR Racer expelled water and improved oxygen flow to the muscles. Oh, and it was ultrasonic which reduced drag, man.
In the Beijing Olympics, some 47 gold medals and 89 per cent of all swimming medals were won by the Speedo LZR Racer. Plus the Speedo LZR Racer broke 23 out of 25 world records. Of course there were swimmers involved too. But it wasn’t all good news for the champion technology. Deemed just a bit too fast by governing body Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) all swimsuits made with polyurethane were banned from the pool. Plop.
Cooling vestsSport would be more fun if it didn’t involve getting so terribly hot. Realising this, and the fact that if sportsmen and women could be kept cooler for longer they would probably perform better, clothing manufacturers set about inventing new thermostat kits. The Nike Precool
vest was more like a designer icebox than an athletics top. Embroidered with prefrozen ice packs, the shirt was to be worn by middle-to-long-distance runners for up to an hour before competition, thus reducing core body temperature and presumably fingers.
The Predator football boot
Football boots used to be made from cows’ livers. Players had to buy two cows and wait for them to die. Because cows don’t die at the same time, footballers all across the North of England would spend hours practising in their gardens kicking their live cow with one boot until it died. Stanley Matthews' cow lived to be 205. This was how he came to dominate English football in the last century.
In the 1980s former Liverpool striker and Australian surfer Craig Johnstone had an idea. What if a football boot could be made that scored a goal whenever it touched the ball? It was a simple idea – combine the technologies of ping-pong and football to make a new rubber boot covered in dimples that would increase the size of the ‘sweet spot’ (the bit you need to hit for a good shot) and grip and swerve the ball in such a way as to completely revolutionise football. It worked. Adidas eventually backed the idea in the 1990s and footballing attire changed for ever. Following this Johnstone went to work on ‘The Pig’ – a kind of football boot glove which noone was really sure of.
Technology in... Equipment
The belly putter
Golf is a good walk ruined, or a repetitive and stupid game up a hill. In a game where hitting a ball 500 yards in a straight line against the wind gets you no points technology has always enjoyed a front seat in the golfer’s buggy. The introduction of the belly putter in the 1980s
for example helped golfing professionals reduce the number of times they were oohed off the green by the crowd after a tiddly piddly miss by taking as much human contact out of the task of putting as possible.
The club was so long that the tip of the handle was swallowed by the naval. Golfers then swung their hips like a pendulum, stood back and watched the ball suck into the hole. Some golfers could play their shots with no hands. It was a sweet dream for the fat man. But he still looked ridiculous.
However a lot of controversy was to come. Many still argue that belly or even chin putters are unfair. Legislation states a putter must be over 18 inches in length but doesn't give a maximum height. The putter remains in play and most recently helped heavyweight Argentinian ball striker Angel Cabrera win the US Masters in April 09: The first ever major won with the club. Not everyone cheered.
The MongooseCricket is an ancient game full of tradition and cake, so not necessarily the first sport you might think of as chasing the latest tempting technological fad. But in recent years cricket has undergone something of a new age conversion. Like a couple of pensioners digging sweet young Dizzee Rascal at the Glastonbury music festival.
What’s more the newest advance goes to the very heart of cricket with a potential change to one of the most important pieces of equipment after the box. Known as The Mongoose cricket’s new bat is built with a longer handle and a lower but thicker bat, effectively more like a golf club or a sledge hammer. This takes away the defensive element of the traditional cricket bat and replaces it with a more offensive weapon.
With cricket becoming more and more about making big, fast scores the Mongoose has the potential to make cricket quite exciting.
Big-headed tennis rackets
Tennis like golf, is a game with a wooden heart. Just as golfers used to hit small balls not very far over grass with wooden sticks so tennis began as a simple sport played with simple wooden rackets. But then along came shiny new things like metal, steel, titanium, aluminium,
carbon-fibre, graphite and composite which could mean pretty much anything really.
In the 1990s tennis rackets with huge heads suddenly enjoyed huge huge popularity amidst the zeitgeist of long hair, illuminous headbands and one Andre Agassi. The size of ‘sweet spots’ increased. Bad players became better, but then so did good ones too. At the same time the balls were changing, a lot of them in mid-air. Basically everything got really, really complicated.
Technology in... Performance
Graeme Obree and 'Old Faithful'Sometimes all sport needs is an enthusiastic outsider to come along, have a go and suddenly declare the whole thing utternonsense while at the same time coming up with a far superior means of participation.That’s what a man called Graeme Obree did in cycling in the 1990s. Scotsman Obree knew he could do better and single-handedly did so, redesigning the racing bike, inventing two completely new racing positions and breaking nearly every time trial racing record in the world. All on a bike called ‘Old Faithful’ which had been designed with the help of a washing machine.
The law makers hated Obree, banning his ‘tucked in’ aerodynamic style of racing and then banning his new ‘Superman’ style, meaning the flying Scotsman was always having to adapt his revolutionary bicycles. Obree retired disillusioned with the sport. He was just too good.
DrugsTechnology has been responsible for some absolutely superhuman feats in the world of sport and most of them illegal. If there was to be one overwhelming technological influence on the great Olympic theatre then it would be in the event of cheating. Anabolic steroids, androstenedione, nandrolone, stanozolol, human growth hormone, even cocaine (yes, it can help you run faster!) are just some of the substances that have been found in the blood of the world’s finest athletes. But it hasn’t just been in athletics.
Cycling has had its fair share of urine-swapping controversy with Erythropoietin (EPO) (a drug which increases red blood cells and therefore the oxygen in the blood) amongst the most popular substances of the Tour de France. But the costs are high. Cyclists like humans do die.
If you don’t want to take drugs then you need to practise. There is plenty of electronic wizadry around for athletes and professional sportsmen and women, measuring times, distances, speed, location, energy levels, body temperature and all the other essentials. But how about getting a robot to train against?
In table tennis the Robo-Pong 2040 fires ping pong balls at you and sucks them up again from the recycling net so you can keep playing continuously. Boomer The Tennis Robot is helping professionals around the tennis ball globe with perhaps the most advanced robotic competition ever. And in baseball a robot developed by scientists in Hiroshima can apparently hit a baseball pitched to it at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour by instantly analysing the path of the delivery.
Technology in… Spectating & Officiating
Hawk-EyeStraight lines call for straight eyes and straight decisions. A hawk’s eye, you might say. It’s exactly what they’ve been saying in cricket and tennis in recent years. The technology uses video cameras to reproduce a 3D computerised image of the trajectory of a ball, handy for line calls. In cricket Hawk-Eye is used to predict the future path of a ball so the umpire can defer tricky leg before wicket decisions. It’s not 100 per cent accurate but it’s very very close.
Hitting and beepingWhether it’s at work, in the playground or on the judo mat, the most important thing about hitting someone is that people see you hitting someone. Amateur boxing uses a points system in which five judges each hit a button when they believe a boxer has scored a blow. If three of the five hit their buttons at the same time the boxer gets a point. In fencing each competitor wears a ‘conducting vest’ covering the torso and groin. When one lands a scoring shot an electrical sword completes a circuit, a light flashes and a point is added.
In Taekwondo a new scoring system will be introduced in time for the 2012 London Olympics. The system will incorporate an electronic body protector suit and video replay for contentious decisions. The new padded suit kits competitors out in face and body protectors allowing everyone to kick the hell out of each other and score lots of points.