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8/14/2008 01:17:00 PM
Five Most Significant Technical Innovations In Sports
Has Michael Phelps been helped by Speedo's new swimsuit?
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
By Lang Whitaker, SI.com
If you've been watching the Olympics, you've undoubtedly seen a little of the swimming competition, where the swimmers seem to be shattering world records with each event. Perhaps every swimmer in the world stumbled into some new training regimen, but more likely it's the suits. With the suits streamlining my brain, here's my list of the five most significant technical innovations in sports...
1. Instant Replay -- They already use it in limited situation in most major sports, and now it looks as if it's heading for baseball, too. The benefits are arguable, but its impact on sports cannot be denied.
2. ACL Surgery -- Used to be if an athlete suffered a torn ACL, their career was over. These days you're out about six months and the ready to pick up where you left off.
3. Speedo's Olympic Swimsuits -- When even Nike is allowing their athletes to wear products by another company, you know the other company's come up with something pretty special.
4. Metal Tennis Rackets -- I played with a wood racket a few months back and it was like using a brick.
5. The Cream And The Clear -- Sure they were illegal, but the steroids allegedly produced by BALCO beat the drug tests and helped a number of players re-write baseball's hallowed record book for good.
What do you think are the most significant technical innovations in sports? Let us know below...
Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com
Rear engine race cars. It completly changed Indy, Formula 1 and drag racing. Let's not forget Kevlar - from quarterback flak jackets to ballistic hockey skates, to 10 lb racing kayaks and rowing shells. Or carbon graphite in Olympic style arrows and other uses that have dropped POUNDS off the equipment.
Short surfboards (6'1) with three fins as opposed to long (10'0)log like boards with one fin. Surfing has progressed exponentially since the "Shortboard Revolution" of the 60's and Simon Anderson's tri-fin of the early 80's.
Hinged ice skates were introduced at the winter olympics in 1998. The skate was hinged at the front attachment to the boot to let the skate stay on the ice longer so there is more push-off force from the skater than a traditional skate. It helped to break a lot of speed skating records. The sad part with this one (and the new Speedo suits) is that not every competitor could use them because of the cost and availability, which creats an unequal playing field.
How about the overbearing coverage of TV and how it's ruining sports...Sunday Ticket only on DirecTV where prices are skyrocketing...Fox Sports ruining every playoff game imaginable..Lets start Baseball Playoff games at 8:45 PM EST and then the game lasts 4+ hours because in the playoffs, you get 3 minutes in between innings instead of 2 because you can get more commercials in...Super Bowls now starting at 6:50 PM...TV Timeouts every 7 minutes....Granted watching events in HD is great, but dealing with elongated Pre-Game shows and over extended games is getting ridiculous....
Let's take Speedo's Olympic Swim suite off the list. There are too many changes to the pool to give the suite that much credit.
"I'm talking about deep water," Gaines explains. "It's a perfect depth because if it's too deep, you lose your sense of vision and where you're at in the pool. But it's just deep enough to where the waves dissipate (and) the turbulence dissipates down to the bottom."
The Water Cube pool also has 10 lanes instead of eight. Waves churned up during races don't bounce back into the swimming lanes. Waves that reach the sides are siphoned off by perforated gutters.
"It's physics and it's not sports, but it makes sense," says Christine Brennan, a veteran of 13 Olympics and an Olympics columnist for USA Today. "You make a deeper and a wider pool, and you ... give all of those waves and all of that splashing and all of that moving water a chance to move away from the swimmers and get out of their way, which makes them go faster. It's as simple as that."
The Water Cube pool is close to 10 feet deep. That's 3 feet deeper than the pools of the past. The lane lines that separate swimmers are called wave eaters because they dissipate turbulent water. The goal is to make the water as flat and clear as possible, despite the churning that swimmers create.
To promote the breaking of swimming world records, the Chinese have optimized their Water Cube pool for speed by: (1) Keeping the water at 80.6 degrees, the temperature considered optimal for swimmers; (2) pumping "microbubbles" into the pool to break the water's surface tension; (3) building the pool to a depth of 3 meters, which prevents water-temperature interference; and (4) introducing a ventilation system that whisks chlorine fumes off the surface of the water, allowing the athletes to breathe clean air.
Many responses seem to miss the "technological" and "most significant" aspects of the inquiry. Although many advancements impacted one or two sports, we should focus on innovations that impacted Sport generally (so, unfortunately, spring floors in gymnastics, shaft technology in golf, clap skates in speed skating and LZR suits in swimming should not be considered). Media coverage, dietary improvements and weight training are the keys. The last two are self evident (remember when Oakley and Barkley were considered "Big Men"? Not today.). Watch Olympic basketball to see the impact media coverage has; the globalization of sport has increased the level of participation and competition (Gretzky once said the best hockey player in the World never laced up skates). Even the '92 Dream Team's success would be much different today.
Instant replay is not a significant innovation in sports. It's affect is negligible. TiVo has a bigger impact.
Replace ACL with Toomy John.
The suit? You're joking right? There are at least three innovations that changed golf far more than the suit in swimming. (The club head, the shaft, the ball - and those are very broad) Which make The Golden Bear and Arnie all the more impressive. Besides, an advanced swim suit affects a few dozen people worldwide. How many did Big Bertha affect?
I believe that the ceramic and polymer rackets have made more of an impact than Jimbo's T-2000. But you can have that one.
Then drop the cream and the clear and go with nutrition in general.