If you are any kind of sports fan, you were probably tired of hearing about Roger Clemens’ trial long before it finally ended. The idea that Clemens might have been using (and then lied about) performance enhancing drugs isn’t particularly novel. People have been finding ways to get an edge in sports from the first time a wrestler greased up to make it harder to grab him.
The next wave of performance enhancement is just as likely to be driven by engineering and technology as it is by drugs and corked bats. A report titled “Sports Engineering: An Unfair Advantage?” has recently been published by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). The report warns of the dangers of technological enhancements in the form of nanotech, 3D printing and biomedical engineering.
According to Dr. David James from Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Sports Engineering Research (CSER), the problems that arise from engineering sports can be summed up as the following:
• Sports engineering is against the spirit of the sport, meaning that winning performances might be due less to hard work and more due to skilled engineering.
• Sports engineering may mean that the best athlete might not necessarily win.
• Sports engineering gives the rich an unfair advantage over the poor.
• Sports engineering makes sport easier.
Speedo’s LZR Racer swimsuit is an example of how engineering can impact sports. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 94% of all gold medals in swimming were won by contestants wearing the suit. This eventually led to a ban of the suit by Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA). Fallout continues in the form of world records set by swimmers wearing the LZR that might not be broken for decades.
IMechE hopes to nip the problem in the bud by encouraging regulators to take a hard look at every new piece of technology that enters sports. Everything from new composite frames for bicycles, to 3D printed shoes needs to be scrutinized before becoming a part of the problem.
Below you’ll find a video about a new device that assists swimmers in Great Britain. Is this an example of technological enhancement gone wrong?