Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

How improvements in technology have improved sports

Running & Fitness
Saturday, March 14, 2020

An interesting segment that was broadcast during the Olympic Marathon Trials was the type of shoes some of the elite runners were wearing. Nike came out with a new shoe that has more spring and cushion in the sole. There were some that claimed that the shoe was illegal and should not be allowed. The end result was the shoe was worn by some runners and no consequences followed.

The fact that the improvements to a shoe because of new technology was even considered to be illegal made me recall some of the changes that have taken place in sports. Years ago Tommy Smith ran a world’s record 200 meters. The officials disqualified him, and the record, because he had “brush” spikes instead of the seven regulation spikes the other runners had. One other technological improvement that was disqualified was the shark skin suit that swimmers were wearing. The suit gave the swimmer a little more buoyancy and less drag while they swam. A few modifications were allowed and various forms of the shark skin suit are used today. 

The examples mentioned above were not allowed because it gave the athlete an unfair advantage in competition. Looking over other technological improvements in sport that were allowed makes you wonder why some are allowed and others are not. When reporters try to compare athletes from the past with athletes of today to see who was the best is like comparing apples to oranges. The conditions of competition, the equipment used, the training methods, and the size and strength of the athletes have too many variables to really compare. This is true in almost every form of athletic competition.

Jesse Owens ran on a dirt track. Today’s athletes run on an artificial composite material that gives greater traction, some rebound effect, and fancy starting blocks. The new surface is allowed for faster times, but the number of spikes on the shoe are not. Bob Richard’s had a stiff aluminum pole for pole vaulting. Today the flex pole has an average pole vaulter breaking his records. The flex pole has changed the sport completely. Speed skating developed a ‘clap’ skate that allowed the blade to be in contact with the ice for a fraction of a second longer. World records were being set at almost every race. Now the skates are considered a standard form of wear. 

Downhill skiers had a suit that reduced wind friction and had the athletes coming down the slopes at greater speeds. The problem was that while it reduced wind friction, it also reduced any friction. When a skier fell, the slick suit failed to provide any friction to slow the skier down. After a few crashes into the trees on the side, of the course the insurance companies would not insure the skier if they wore that frictionless suit. After paying for recovery from injuries after being stopped by an unforgiving tree, and the skiers had to pay out of their own pocket, the skiers wore the suit, but turned it inside out to add some friction if they fell. And comparing the wooden skis from the past to the multiple layered composite ski of today is another win for technology. 

When you look at the gloves of baseball player’s decades ago to the gloves used by players today it is easy to see why catching a fly ball is just a matter of getting the glove close to the ball. When you compare the bat Babe Ruth used – something like a 44 – compared to the 36 and 38 size used now the change is noticeable. Babe's bat was just a few layers of bark off a tree limb compared to the whip like effect that narrow handled bats of today. The pitching mound was several inches higher back then to give the pitcher the advantage. When the scores were so low, the rules committee decided to lower the pitcher’s mound to let the hitters get a better swing and hit more home runs. 

Rod Laver had a wooden racquet and a serve of around 80 miles per hour. Then aluminum, carbon fiber, composite layers, and increased size led to serves around 120 miles per hour. Jimmy Conner’s had a T-2000 regular sized metal racquet that he used. He was the only tennis player using that racquet. The company couldn’t afford making just that one racquet for Conner to use and he had to move up to a mid-sized racquet as a compromise. Even the indoor surface of tennis courts can be made to favor a volley type game or a fast serve game. Slower bounce or a faster bounce. Technology has changed the game to an almost different strategy game. Returning a serve at over 100 miles an hour on the same size court is more of a stick out your racquet and let the rebound be the return. No more wind up and swing for a return.

Pro bowlers had balls made of hard rubber and each competitor had a magic formula that they would soak the ball in to make it softer. Gasoline and kerosene were the main components of the formula. Today the plastic balls are made to a specific hardness built into the ball. The inside of a bowling ball is a maze of technology with weights that determine if the ball will be a straight ball, a hook ball, or a curve ball. I used to tell my classes in Kinesiology that since I was left handed I had to wear left-handed bowling shoes. They thought I was kidding. But, I did have left-handed bowling shoes.

These are a few examples of how modern technology has changed competition in athletics. This did not even consider the difference between the leather football helmets of the past with the shock absorbing helmets of today. Watching films of the old Formula One race cars with today’s cars is like something drivers back then would consider space age stuff. When people start to determine what is legal and what is illegal in sports all a person has to do is recall what the equipment and playing fields of the past were like. Change will always take place as technology improves and athletes will continue to improve as well. A new sole on a running shoe is just one other example of athletes trying to find that edge in technology to improve performance.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666