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
Significantly more productivity in USP lasers
06.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT
Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
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A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
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The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
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