Even when you think this generation of athletes is the absolute best in their field, future generations will blow us away anew, setting new records. Speed, height or distance, every dimension and record will be conquered again. Many sports records have been broken in the last decade to an ever increasing advance in sports technology.
Ever since the beginning of sports, and especially in the last decade, innovations have enabled athletes to run faster, jump higher and hit harder. Most of these technological developments can be classified into three segments:
- material improvements – improvements in fabrics and footwear, making it more lasting, aerodynamic, lightweight, safe or breathable.
- data collection – measuring and filming athletes while they are training and performing can provide insight into their health and help building optimal training schedules.
- creation of new sports tools – First the ball, the skateboard and the ping pong ball – now Virtual Reality, Kinect and Nintendo Wii have create a whole new way of experiencing sports.
A great deal of record breaking innovations in sports are linked to material improvements. Think of how Nike single-handed improved performances in basketball (among other sports) with the Nike Air Max, how studs on your boots makes transformed the game of soccer on muddy pitches, how adding dimples to a golf ball reduces drag in mid-air and how the Zamboni made the lives for ice hockey players and speed skaters much easier, and faster!
The most data-driven sports in the world? That would be Formula 1 racing. Sensors in the race cars provide information about engine performance, tyres, fuel and temperature which enables the crew to take thoughtout decisions in a matter of seconds when the racing car arrives at the pit stop.
Many other sports have embedded sensors in clothing, shoes and wearables on the body; collecting data on performance, recovery capacity, energy levels and pulse rate. Coaches and medical staff use this data to customize training sessions specific to a person. But also think of a sports match on TV, during the broadcast the commentators also make use of this data to evoke an interactive experience. Recently, the sensors have also made it into rugby and American football, preventing injuries and concussions.
Nowadays, collecting data on sports performance is not just for top athletes. A wide variety of tracker apps and wearables have also been made available to individuals for use at home and outdoors, such as Runkeeper and FitBit.
Creation of new sports (tools)
The sports world is constantly moving, whether the rules of the game are updated (to guarantee more safety for the players), monitoring tools such as Hawk-Eye technology are added, or whether the materials used get an update (soccer: from an inflated pig bladder wrapped in leather, to wine bottles covered in leather, to rubber balls, to the first synthetic soccer ball), developments are everywhere.
The discovery of the ‘ball’ brought forward many new sports, as did the bike and board. They must have astounded the first few people that played with it. And now, it’s almost impossible to imagine how competing in Virtual Reality-sports and with hoover boards and drones will someday be normal to us.
Sports have become more inclusive
Nowadays, people with physical disabilities get more and more chances to perform in sports. Prosthetics and smart tools have made a huge difference in sports participation among people with physical disabilities. See for example how this swim cap will change the lives of many blind swimmers. And also think of specially designed carbon-fibre wheelchairs and carbon-fibre running prostheses.