August 15, 2018
How Technology and Smarts Help Athletes Push the Limits
This article appeared first here.
“Science is helping to create new training methods and amazing performances by athletes such as swimmer Katie Ledecky. How much faster, stronger, and better can humans get?
The race for the ages can be run only in our imagination: Usain Bolt vs. Jesse Owens.
Bolt is in his 21st-century lane, a smooth, slip-resistant rubber surface spread out for 100 meters, designed to quickly return energy to his legs as he races across it.
Then there’s Owens in his pre-World War II lane, an uneven bed of cinders, a soft surface that actually steals energy from his legs as he runs.
Bolt, the Jamaican sprinting legend who has eight Olympic gold medals and has held the world records in the men’s 100- and 200-meter sprints for nearly a decade, is wearing lightweight shoes made specifically for running on high-tech surfaces. For his entire competitive life, he has received the finest training the world has ever seen. He jets to competitions and has his own cook, who makes him lean, nutritious meals. Bolt also has been at his peak during the height of the steroids era in sports. He has never tested positive, but suspicion follows many top Olympic athletes of his time. Bolt had to forfeit a gold medal he won as part of a relay in the 2008 Olympics after a teammate tested positive.
Owens, who won the 100 meters with a time of 10.3 seconds in the 1936 Olympics—one of four gold medals he claimed in Berlin—is wearing leather running shoes. Bolt is able to get a quick launch from state-of-the-art starting blocks, but Owens must dig his own “starting blocks” out of the cinders with a gardening trowel.
Owens grew up in a segregated America, with few of the perks of modern athletes. To get to Berlin, he and other U.S. athletes spent several days crossing the Atlantic on an ocean liner.
Bolt, who ran the 100 meters in a record 9.58 seconds in 2009 and retired last year, is still widely recognized as the world’s fastest man. But how much faster was he, really, than elite sprinters of previous generations like Owens?
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