Technology Creates Athletes That Are Citius, Altius, Fortius

By: Catherine Harvey

Citius, Altius, Fortius is the motto of the modern day Olympics and means Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

With London being the hosts for the 2012 Olympics, all eyes will be on how well our athletes perform and the pressure is being felt to excel. For this reason, scientists are increasingly discovering new technologies to add to sports equipment and so aid our sportsmen and women to become the very best in their field.

But can there be a link between technology and sportsmanship? Does this not constitute cheating? Will the Olympics become a test of each nations technological expertise and not about the athletes abilities?

This is precisely why the Olympics has a governing body to lay down rules about just how much technology can be installed in sports equipment and how much should be left to the individuals abilities.

It has to be said that much has changed in the 2500 years since the Olympics origins. Take running for instance. Runners in the early Olympics would have started from an upright position, tucking their toes into a starting line - hence the expression 'toeing the line'. If a false start ensued, participants would be punished by flogging.

Thankfully, this no longer occurs and in the case of running, not many applications of technology are possible on the useable sports equipment. In this area, it has mainly been the improvement of running shoes that are made lighter and better fitting and of the changes in track surfaces. However, running speeds are ever increasing and this is possibly due, at least in part, to our advanced understanding of the human body and the effect our diet plays on its performance.

The sports equipment used in events such as the javelin has been changed over the years following ever more distances clocked up by athletes. It became apparent that distances were being achieved that made throwing a spike through the air dangerous. I could have told them that - could have someone's eye out with that!

Throwing a pointed spear within the confines of a crowd caused concern when athletes were able to throw the javelin the complete length of the stadium. This brought about a change in their sports equipment where the centre of mass was moved 4cm forward thus limiting the distance it could be thrown and ensuring it landed pointy end down - always a bonus unless you're hunting for dinner.

The poles used in pole vaulting events have gone through various changes over the years. One of the most surprising being the use of bamboo. Being a hollow pole, it was thought that this would be less flexible when, in fact, it was even more so than some woods that were being used. It's something to do with the neutral axis thingy running down the centre of the beam where stresses are minimal if they exist at all.

Bamboo was replaced by fibre glass as the sports equipment of choice for pole vaulters, making it lighter and more flexible, thus giving them a distinct advantage. However, personal skill is very apparent in this area despite the technological help that continues with the introduction of carbon fibres to the poles to make them lighter still.

Pole vaulting is one area that has changed drastically since the Olympics started to the point where vaulters now approach the beam with a different part of their anatomy. From going over with feet pointing downwards they not take the vault after performing a complex gymnastic move that sees them throwing themselves upside down. The pole can be of any length and strength with little or no restrictions.

With all Olympic sports in their sights, Loughborough University recently saw the unveiling or their new Sports Technology Institute, dedicated to the furthering of technology in sports equipment. The 15 pounds million centre works with all the top sports equipment suppliers and promotes the issue of sports and healthy lifestyles amongst the youth of today. A very fitting construction given that it is our turn for Olympic hosting.

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