How elite athletes use high technology to earn gold medals

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2021-07-20 05:16:38

Irish professional diver Oliver Dingley has spent most of the past year strength training in a gym, in preparation for his participation in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This 2016 Rio Olympics often practices somersaults and spends hours on a trampoline to ensure that he unleashes his full power in the Japanese competitions.

However, when he was training in the pool, a team of analysts onshore used a video analysis system to replay his dives and correct his body movements.

And in Hong Kong, which is sending a team of 46 people to compete in 13 sports, elite athletes have used a very modern treadmill on the campus of the Hong Kong Sports Academy. to try to reduce the achievement to a few milliseconds, but still avoid getting injured. They also use a special exercise bike that can both exercise and measure endurance, intensity as well as many other indicators of the body when exercising.

Tech equipment used by athletes to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The 2020 Olympic event taking place in Tokyo will be the gathering place of 11,000 athletes from around the world. And joining them are coaches, scientists and analysts, who will also participate in a race to find the most advanced technology to help athletes increase their chances of winning medals. gold chapter. In past events, some of these cutting-edge technologies have been revealed, from sensors that track a swimmer’s stroke count to augmented reality glasses that can display a swimmer’s heart rate. cyclists and other important information.

“Sports technology is an important part of Olympic athletes’ preparation,” Dr Aimée Mears, lecturer at Loughborough University’s Institute of Sports Technology. “Most countries and sport governing bodies will have regulations on sports technology and it will be incorporated into the support for Olympic athletes.”

Olympic teams often use biomechanical research and data analysis to quantify and test athletes’ technique, after a coach’s intervention or when returning from injury. In swimming, for example, they use aids and high-speed video cameras to measure a swimmer’s force and movement during warm-up.

And as with every previous Olympics, the technologies used for the Games taking place in this pandemic era have also evolved. According to John Barden, a professor of biomechanics at the University of Regina in Canada, wearables are among the most recent tools that have become ubiquitous in the “Olympic arsenal”.

“Wearable technology is especially useful for tracking athletes when training grounds are closed because of the pandemic,” he said. “One of the obvious benefits of technology on wearables is the ability to collect and deliver information that was previously unavailable. For example, load-sensing resistors placed in shoes, ski boots or tables cycling can provide a continuous stream of data for the entire workout.”

Ethiopian athletes train ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

One of the teams that have used wearable technology is the Kenyan women’s volleyball team. Their GPS device provides data on each player’s strength, heart rate and other vital stats to coaches, who will use this information to prevent injury and adjust training regimens. training for each individual.

Another report shows that wearable sports technology from a Danish company, built on radar technology, is being used to help the Japanese baseball team analyze every shot of athletes. members, so that they can deliver the best results.

Also in Tokyo, Chinese tech giant Alibaba and US chipmaker Intel have teamed up to operate a 3D athlete tracking system that allows coaches to probe every minute of movement. of its Olympic athletes.

The system relies on artificial intelligence to understand the biomechanical principles of athletes’ movements, which are recorded by the camera and estimate the position of key joints in the body. With this system, coaches can tailor their training methods based on real-time information on their athletes.

Intel’s “twin” technology also creates a virtual replica of the stadium, which can help athletes prepare for their competitions. The model can be accessed via the ultra-fast 5G broadband mobile network.

Sports brands are also racing to introduce new apparel and equipment, incorporating the latest technological innovations, to help enhance athletes’ performance.

Anta Sports from China has been manufacturing 3D printed shoes for the boxing team, which they say offer better protection and fit. Fashion brand Leotards also offers 3D designs to match the shapes of Chinese gymnasts.

Speedo introduced two “technological” swimwear in its Fastskin line launched just before the Olympics, inspired by shark skin to reduce swimmer’s drag in the water.

Nike released the Vaporfly 4% running shoes in 2017 and they quickly became a favorite among athletes. Both Nike and independent studies have found that the shoe can reduce running energy consumption by 4% compared to other marathon shoes, including Adidas’ Adizero Adios.

In addition to technology that tracks athletic performance, athletes use a range of other health-monitoring technologies, such as sleep quality.

Olympic Tokyo 2020: How elite athletes use high technology to earn gold medals - Photo 3.

An athlete holds a pair of Nike Vaporfly shoes.

But, the advent of new technologies in the field of sports is not without controversy. Critics say it sometimes resembles a form of “technological doping”, as it dramatically improves performance.

The International Athletics Federation (World Athletics), in July last year banned the prototype version of Nike’s Vaporfly shoe from being used at the Tokyo Olympics. Because the variant contains three carbon fiber plates embedded in super-compressed foam, which increases the amount of force the runner applies to propel them forward.

The new rules only allow for sneakers that are spikeless, have one or no carbon fiber rigid panels or tongues, and are designed to “preserve the integrity of competitions”. The organization also said the rules were put in place to maintain the status quo of technology even after the Tokyo Olympics, in order to provide fairness and certainty for the training of athletes.

Dr. Thomas Murray, emeritus president of the Hastings Center, an American bioethics research institute, said technological advances should not take away the value and meaning of inherent discipline.

“We need to look at ourselves and ask ourselves, what do we care about in sports?”

While there is no universal answer to the acceptability of certain sports technologies, according to Myray, “Sports management, more specific sports rules, is necessarily part of the constant conversation, because things are always changing. Athletes change, equipment changes, the odds change. People’s expectations change. You just have to engage in that conversation honestly and authentically.”

The International Athletics Federation’s ban on Nike shoes has brought back memories of a 2008 rule change by the International Aquatics Federation, which banned athletes from using Speedo’s LZR Racer suits. This is a full body suit that greatly reduces drag and makes swimmers better. At the time, athletes wearing the suits set 23 of the 25 world records at the Beijing Olympics.

Olympic Tokyo 2020: How elite athletes use high technology to earn gold medals - Photo 4.

For some, the use of advanced sports technology has exacerbated inequalities between well-funded teams and those from developing nations.

Dr Bryce Dyer, who studies assistive technology in sport and is associate dean of design and engineering at England’s Bournemouth University, said technological advances could reduce an athlete’s participation rate. members, due to cost constraints that prevent them from accessing technologies such as Speedo swimwear or Nike Vaporfly shoes.

“Unfortunately some athletes will be at a disadvantage,” he said.

Professor Sigmund Loland of the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences said increasing technological advances will jeopardize future sporting events. “If elite sports become a mirror that reflects the general inequalities among the nations of the world, it will no longer have any ideal function to exist.”

He added that sport can realize the ideal of equal opportunity and those values ​​will need international federations to standardize equipment and funding for technology sharing.

But despite the controversy surrounding allegations of “technology doping” and inequality, sports technology has been tied to the performances of most Olympic athletes in Tokyo.

Dr Dyer of Bournemouth University said: “Regardless of finances and geography, athletes will always try to find ways to increase their performance every percentage point.”

“Becoming an Olympic medalist is a life-changing event, so it’s foolish for athletes to not consider the performance advantages legally offered to them in the marketplace.”

And as Barden of the University of Regina said, if in the future small and unobtrusive sensors placed in swimming shoes or goggles can enhance performance in sports, so can these sensors. to help joggers become more comfortable with their own stride pattern, or useful for physicians seeking to assess gait-related risks in the elderly.

He said: “Hopefully in this way, wearable technology will bring many important benefits to society in the future.”

Refer SCMP

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