Why Sprinters Are Performing Better Than Ever
Professional sprinters continue to beat their own records year after year, but it's not only that runners are improving beyond what was previously thought impossible. According to a new study, technological interventions are helping sprinters keep up their frantic pace.
Steve Haake of Sheffield Hallam University's Centre for Sports Engineering in the UK has developed a model called the "performance-improvement index" that uses very simple physics to compare the relative growth of top athletes in different sports over the last 100 years.
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His model shows that the performance-improvement index in the men's 100 meter sprint is increasing at a time when performance in other events, such as javelin and swimming, have plateaued or decreased.
Haake noted the step-change in the men's 100 meter spring in the mid-1970s with the introduction of fully automated timing as innovations that have changed the sport and added to higher rates of broken records.
And it's not just runners that are boosted, or burdened, by changing technologies.
Whether it is tighter-fitting full-body swimsuits that have helped swimmers break 25 of 47 world records in 2008 and 2009 alone, or changing regulations about the size and shape of javelins in the 1980s that altered the center of gravity of the apparatus and caused a reduction in throwing distances of nearly nine meters, the study shows that there is more than just an athlete's physical ability that goes into breaking a record.
"One way of finding out how exactly technology affects sporting performance is to examine the physics involved. We can then try to quantify the effect of technology on sporting events -- and find out whether it really is all about the equipment," Haake said in an article published in the journal Physics World, according to Business Standard.
The swimsuits, which have now been banned by swimming's ruling body (FINA), were relatively tight and reduced the cross-sectional area of the body by pulling it into a more cylindrical shape, thus reducing drag. They were made from polyurethane, which also affected the way the water flowed over the body, reports Phys.org.
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