Haake has developed something called the "performance-improvement index", which uses very simple physics to compare the relative improvement of top athletes in different sports over the last 100 years.
The model shows that the performance-improvement index in the men's 100 m sprint is increasing at a time when those of other events, such as javelin and swimming, have plateaued or decreased.
Some of the reasons for these changes, which Haake describes in this feature, are because of technological interventions that have changed the face of the sport. The performance of javelin throwers, for example, was improving drastically up until the mid-1980s, to a point where officials were concerned for crowd safety.
At the time, javelins would float to the ground and land flat, meaning it was very hard to tell where the tip had hit the ground. As such, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) changed the specifications of the javelin itself, moving its centre of mass towards the tip by 4 cm and so forcing the javelin to land on its tip, thus reducing throwing distances by about 9 m.
Haake also describes the step-change in the men's 100 m in the mid-1970s with the introduction of fully automated timing.
In swimming, an unprecedented 25 and 47 world records were broken in 2008 and 2009, respectively, with tight-fitting, full-body swimsuits seen as the main reason.
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.
As Haake writes, "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."
From Monday 9 July, this month's edition of Physics World will be freely available as a PDF download from http://physicsworld.com.
The Steve Haake feature, along with a selection of videos of him talking about the physics of running, swimming and cycling, can be viewed at http://physicsworld.com from Thursday 12 July.Also in this issue:
Balance, angular momentum and sport -- "biomechanic" Roland Ennos from Manchester University explains how gymnasts, divers and long jumpers all use simple physics principles to perform amazing balancing acts
PPPL physicist uncovers clues to mechanism behind magnetic reconnection
24.01.2017 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
Electrocatalysis can advance green transition
23.01.2017 | Technical University of Denmark
For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.
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An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
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Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
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19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
24.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
24.01.2017 | Life Sciences
24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy