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
From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
23.02.2017 | University of Wisconsin-Madison
Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars
22.02.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science
In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".
Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...
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