IF THE London Olympics were about technology, South Africa would surely have won the first gold medal courtesy of Oscar Pistorius and his Cheetah Flex-Feet, which, confirm tests by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, enable him to run as fast as he would have had he been born with fibulas - but no quicker. (I make this point for naysayer and former gold medallist Michael Johnson, who continues to argue Pistorius has an unfair advantage.)
The Blade Runner's blades are not, however, the only cool technology on show at the Olympics. Italian company Mondo created a double-layer rubber athletics track, which gives athletes better traction via a granulated top layer, and greater shock absorption via a softer second layer. This means there's no need for the kind of lethally long spikes I screwed into my running shoes to come third in the girl s under-16 100m hurdles 100 years ago. Runners now use lighter, shorter, nonpenetrating spikes, which perform better and make the time-consuming hassle of having to check the track for lost spikes after races unnecessary.
Most modern track shoes have ceramic spikes, which are a third of the weight of traditional steel spikes. Olympian athletes, however, are equipped with even more highly developed spikes made from nanomaterials for added resistance and reduced weight. The Adidas Adizero Prime SP spiked sprint shoe, as worn by US sprinter Tyson Gay, weighs less than 100g. Nike's new minimalist marathon shoe, the Flyknit, which debuts at the games, weighs 19% less than Nike shoes worn by marathoners at the world championships last year. And, although the controversial full-body swimwear credited for helping break so many records in Beijing is now outlawed, there are some other interesting developments in clothing at the Olympics.
"Compression garments" are the new big thing, in which the fabric is designed to take on some of the workload of the muscles. Nike's full-body Pro TurboSpeed suit is allegedly 0.023 seconds faster over 100m. Made of recycled polyester and plastic bottles, the suit features raised dots on the arms and legs that reduce drag.
Previous technology registered an athlete's start when the block was pushed back 5mm. All starting blocks for track events are now fully electronic. And, as you may have noticed when Cameron van der Burgh won on Sunday, starting blocks for swimming now light up to show who finished first, second and third.
To me, however, the most exciting Olympian technology was used by US athlete Shannon Rowbury in preparation for the games. Having experienced a stress fracture during her training, Rowbury trained on an AlterG Treadmill, which uses anti gravity technology developed by Nasa. By giving the runner the feeling she was only 20% of her actual weight, the machine enabled Rowbury to resume her training much sooner after injury. "It's awesome," she said.
Really? Nano-spikes, shoes that weigh as much as a naartjie, constrictive clothing, a go-faster athletics track or a treadmill that says you weigh 80% less than you do? Yes, dear. I agree: it's awesome.
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