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
Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
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