CONTEMPORARY AND EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES IN ATHLETICS: THE POSSIBILITIES OF MODERN AND FUTURE OLYMPICSΦεβ 15th, 2004 | Παύλος Μσάουελ| Κατηγορία: English, Επιστήμες | Email This Post | Print This Post |
Is new technology giving birth to new sports? Some would say that we are already there. By most definitions, video gaming is already a sport. The top gamers form teams, compete in leagues, hire full-time coaches, who teach strategy and give other gaming tips, and adopt strict training regimens. There is even a growing fan base that views tournaments online, or attends them in person to watch the play-by-play action on overhead projection monitors. PC gaming competitions also air live on TV in countries such as South Korea. Is this truly surprising in a world where bow hunters, bass fishermen and bridge players call themselves athletes? Online gaming has as good a claim as some established Olympic sports such as shooting: a set of fundamental skills to do with eye-to-hand coordination, where a low resting pulse rate is also extremely useful. There are even world competitions with six-figure prizes such as the “World Cybergames”, which is considered the Olympics of gaming. Olympic recognition has already been granted to billiards and chess. It seems that video gamers also want into the clubhouse.
On the other hand, professional roboticists, children and enthusiasts are finding robot competitions where machines from all over the planet are invited to compete for gold, bronze and silver medals as well as cash prizes. Game categories include robot soccer, maze solving, robot triathlon and robot sumo. Speed, agility and luck determine what prevails in the six-legged hexapod challenge, walking biped races, line slaloms and Lego Mindstorm courses. However, this practice is still in its infancy. It would be difficult to consider a soccer match between awkward 10-pound hunks of steel and plastic as sport.
Another futuristic aspiration is the concept of cyborg athletes. Indeed it could be argued that sport is already posthuman since athletes today have been metamorphosed into super-humans in the pursuit of performance. Cyber-athlete technologies are currently legal, though International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is beginning to express concern. Athletes seek enhancement technologies, even if it is simply a lighter tennis racquet, or a neoprene swimming suit. The technological status of many sports is extremely distinct, with many kinds of sports equipment accepted, the only –questionable- condition being whether or not they detract from the sport’s integrity. The degree of sophistication of modern sports equipment alludes to technology that will one day become indistinguishable from the athlete’s body. Recently, the British Olympic athlete Colin Jackson was fitted with running shoes biomechanically modelled to fit the shape of only his feet. This innovative shoe was essentially an extension of the unprotected foot, offering maximum comfort and ease of performance. Surgical enhancement may be the next step in the never ending quest to improve performance. The overwhelming concern for an athlete’s health continues to constitute the most persuasive reason for justifying the prohibition of different methods of performance modification.
It is likely that advances in sport technology will radically change the way athletes are trained. The future coach may not even be a human person at all. In Olympic level competitions, the difference between winning and losing is based on technique. Today, these techniques are fine tuned by computers. The “computer coach” provides expert information on diet, fitness and tailor made training schedules. Moreover, video cameras connected to supercomputers are now capable of analysing films of an athlete at work and objectively measure his/her performance. Based on this information, these computers can advise the athlete on how to improve co-ordination, movement and overall performance.
New simulation technologies offer greater immersion to spectators. Future fans may experience the performance of the athlete as if performing for him/her. Moreover, we are rapidly approaching the point were greater interactivity between the spectator and the event will allow the spectator to choose camera angles, zoom and replay, directing the observed performance at will. On the other hand, new virtual technologies may replace “real” sporting locations. Three dimensional simulations of the arena could be constructed for the viewer, while the athlete is actually competing inside a virtual reality room. Cyclists, for example, will sit on a real bicycle, similar to modern high-tech exercise bicycles, within a cycling booth, but the viewer will be seeing the athlete cycling in a virtual terrain. This type of technology is already a part of elite athletes’ training. The US Bobsled team used a virtual simulation of the track they would face at the Nagamo Winter Olympics in 1998, to experience and better prepare for the event.
Technology can also change the nature of the test, as did take place in javelin throwing. Up until 1995, athletes seemed to be throwing such great distances that threatened the safety of spectators on the edge of the throwing field. Since, increasing the size of stadia would be a costly enterprise, new javelins with different aerodynamic qualities were designed to solve the problem. Thus, using these more aerodynamic javelins, technically proficient athletes were able to throw further than the traditional power throwers of previous years. In 2001, the International Tennis Federation (ITF), intending to slow down the male serve, began experimenting with new kinds of tennis ball. In altering the requirements of tennis-playing, the ITF hopes to ensure that the game is not degraded by the dominance of the serve. It should be added, however, that this approach can bring about an accumulation of changes over a period of time and the end result might have been wholly undesirable had it been known at the beginning.
It is taken for granted that new technologies give rise to precaution, most frequently based on fear of change. Such fear often subsides as technology becomes integrated with social habits. This does not encourage the complete and indiscriminate acceptance of technology. It implies, however, that condemnation of technology is often an instinctive manifestation of “fearing the new and unknown” rather than a product of rational, objective thinking. Sport and society are intimately connected and technological practises are infiltrating both. Where should we draw the line? How much technologization constitutes a less than human sport? Certainly, technology serves a constituent function in sport. Without the board, there is no wind-surfing. Without the bike, bicycle races are impossible. In order to evaluate various kinds of sport technologies we should depend upon the interpretation of the goal they are meant to serve, that is the goal of sport and the notion of fair play. There is a need for strict standardization procedures. External support systems that are not really controlled by and do not require own efforts from athletes should be unacceptable, as they bring no additional value to the sport. Technology that requires both effort and skill, does not represent unnecessary risks for harm to the athlete and is equally accessible to all competitors is of fundamental value in sport.
Does technological change give birth to new and maybe even posthuman athletic experiences? It is certainly getting there…
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Vol. 3, Issue #1, 2004