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Olympics to showcase technologies

If the progression continues, the Olympic Games might have to change its credo from "higher, faster, stronger" to "any edge I can get".

Back in the day, almost 700 BC, Olympic athletes competed naked, maybe oiled up a little to reduce friction – "a sight pleasing to the Gods" was how Homer (the ancient Greek poet, not Simpson) put it.

These days, with athletes looking for any advantage they can get to run and swim and pedal a little faster, jump a little higher, and lift a little more weight, it’s all about the technology. From high-tech dimpled suits that shed air and water faster than skin, to carbon fibre bikes that are lighter than aluminium, to shoes that grip the track better and return some of the energy back to the runner, the race to the top of the podium is not a simple matter of athletics anymore. After all, medals are won in the margins, sometimes with split times measured in thousandths of a second.

And those are just the technologies that we can see. In training, national teams are using computers to track performance, study techniques, and help athletes make the most of their opportunity.

In June, Bell Canada brought their TechnoSport pavilion through Whistler to demonstrate some of the new technologies that athletes will be using in the future to stay in contact with coaches, doctors, psychologists, trainers, family members and other supporters, as well as store and review their own performance data. The crux of this exhibit (check it out at http://technosport.bell.ca) is that technology enriches the lives and enhances the performance of athletes.

Purists are spewing. Is it fair, after all, for one swimmer to wear a full body suit worth thousands of dollars that mimics the skin of a shark while everybody else relies on the traditional full-body shave and swim caps to shed water? What’s the difference between wearing shoes that give you a bit of bounce, and taking a drug that puts a spring in your step?

Defenders of these technologies are quick to point out that the suits, shoes, bikes and other technologies are generally available to everybody – clearly ignoring the fact that some nations are wealthier than others. Others believe that the technology is a side-benefit of the Games – technologies developed and used by Olympians and Paralympians could have benefits for all of humanity.

Others wonder if it’s even possible to take technology out of the Games. For example, some athletes are sponsored by certain companies or choose to wear certain clothes, shoes, etc. for reasons of fit or comfort, so it’s not always possible to force athletes to wear the same clothes and equipment.

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