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Physics confirms sprinters are performing better than ever before

Date:
July 2, 2012
Source:
Institute of Physics (IOP)
Summary:
Experts reveal that the men’s 100 m sprint will be one event not to miss this summer.

In this month's Physics World,Steve Haake, director of the Centre for Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, reveals that the men's 100 m sprint will be one event not to miss this summer.

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."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Physics (IOP). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Institute of Physics (IOP). "Physics confirms sprinters are performing better than ever before." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120702134039.htm>.
Institute of Physics (IOP). (2012, July 2). Physics confirms sprinters are performing better than ever before. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120702134039.htm
Institute of Physics (IOP). "Physics confirms sprinters are performing better than ever before." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120702134039.htm (accessed April 19, 2014).

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