Photo: sirwiseowl (flickr)
The crowd goes wild, the cyclist crosses the finish line–And it’s a new world record!
Today’s athletes are constantly breaking the limits of what was once possible. On today’s Moment of Science, we’ll learn how high performance athletes get a boost from high technology.
In some sports, the advantages of better technology are pretty obvious. Competing cyclists can spend up to ninety percent of their energy overcoming air resistance. Anything that reduces this drag can add directly to their speed. Therefore, today’s competition bikes are engineered to be as streamlined as possible, with blade-like spokes, tapered tubing, and handlebars that sweep low and forward for the most aerodynamic riding posture.
Even lower tech sports benefit from high technology. Forty years ago, a pole vaulting pole was a bamboo shaft, and the world record vault stood at fifteen feet. Today, poles are made of carbon composite–custom built to the individual’s speed, weight, and grip–and top-class vaulters can now clear twenty feet. Archery bows are also no longer made of wood. They have a core of miniature glass ball bearings, buried in rigid foam and wrapped in carbon fiber and fiberglass. Switching to the new bows made archers instantly more accurate, improving scores by more than twenty percent.
Sometimes however, this high tech engineering can go too far. Ten years ago, a sports rules committee banned a new, ultra-aerodynamic javelin design. This new javelin had the unfortunate habit of overshooting the field entirely, and winding up in the stands. After it was banned, the javelin record dropped by over sixty-five feet.
On our next program, we’ll learn how high technology can benefit athletic training, as well as equipment.