The 2012 Summer Olympics in London are here at last, and athletes are gearing up for some of the biggest performances of their lives. To gain a competitive edge, Olympic hopefuls are taking advantage of some weird and wonderful high-tech advances with their eye on the podium.
After Olympic swimmers sliced through world records in Beijing wearing Speedo’s insanely sleek LZR Racer suits, the 2012 Olympic Committee decided to ban the ultra-aerodynamic swimwear because it gave wearers a distinct competitive advantage. This will make it more difficult for swimmers to match the performances from 2008, since the LZR suits provided an extra boost that helped shatter records like never before.
Aside from putting the kibosh on gear that gave an unnatural leg up, some teams are trying to limit their use of chemical cocktails. Australia recently axed sleeping pill use for its athletes, fearing dependency. And, of course, doping of all kinds is prohibited. But besides those better-known taboo tricks, there are still a number of remarkable innovations out there designed to help athletes nab the gold. Here are a few of the most extreme.
1. Motion capturing
Athletes constantly review footage of their performances to look for ways to improve, and motion capturing helps them analyze their movements like never before. Olympic hurdling superstar Lolo Jones teamed up with Red Bull, using motion capture technology to render her movements in breathtakingly precise 3D imagery.
This strategy helps Jones and other Team USA track hopefuls take a closer look at their form and make the microscopic adjustments necessary to shave pesky fractions of seconds off their times. Olympic fans who are more into gaming than lacing up track shoes can experience the joys of motion capture by picking up a Kinect for Xbox.
2. Robo-pong for table tennis
Robo-pong helps players improve their skills because it can perform like no human ever could, using an intelligent design to spin ping pong balls in zippy, precise increments according to the specifics of the training program. China also developed a humanoid robot to help its Olympians train for table tennis glory, but the Robo-pong is sure to keep North American athletes in the running.
3. Cryogenic and hypoxic chambers
These sound like something Dr. Evil could get on board with, but Olympians use cryogenic chambers and hypoxic chambers for much less nefarious purposes, acclimating their bodies to different conditions to get in peak shape before the biggest games and races of their lives. Hypoxic chambers help athletes beef up the way their bodies take in oxygen by simulating high-altitude conditions.
Cryogenic chambers expose the body to super-cold temperatures, which is thought to reduce inflammation and help heal injuries. Both kinds of chambers are up and running in various spots around London, so this year’s crop of contenders will likely be freezing and pretending they’re on Everest in hopes of improving their performance.
4. Insanely lightweight shoes
Nike’s Flywire technology debuted in 2008 in Beijing, and this year competitors from Team USA, including the basketball team, will sport variants of the ultra-lightweight shoes.
Superstars like LeBron James will don pairs of Nike Hyperdunks — shoes based on the Flywire technology with a special cushioning system — to keep their feet fleet as they storm down the court in London. Track stars, on the other hand, will wear shoes fitted with spiked and carbon fiber plates.
Flywire uses fibers thinner than strands of human hair to reduce the weight of the shoe without compromising the support, producing an unparalleled footwear for athletes on the move. Nike also developed special shoes for amputee athletes, perfect for Paralympics superstars like Sarah Reinertsen.
5. Textured track and field uniforms
Also designed by Nike, Team USA’s textured Pro TurboSpeed track and field uniforms mimic the aerodynamic elements of golf balls, featuring slight indentations all over the fabric to maximize speed and efficiency. The technicians behind these duds got down and dirty with physics, figuring out the most precise pattern of dimples possible to ramp up performance.
Nike’s creative director extolled the virtues of the outfits, and the team believes it can shave priceless milliseconds off of sprint times that may end up the difference between gold and silver. If these lofty claims are true, these uniforms will be a little bit reminiscent of the LZR suits in the way they make the athletes faster. This might raise the ire of Olympic regulators in the future, but for now, these outfits are still perfectly legal.
You can check out the latest Olympic news on Facebook’s Olympic hub, just introduced for London 2012, so whenever a new training technology winds up on the banned list, you’ll be in the loop.
What sport are you most excited to see? Let us know in the comments below.
Kate Knibbs is a writer for Tecca. She is a freelance writer and semi-nomadic pizza enthusiast. Tecca is a next-generation personal electronics information and shopping service. We bring together the web’s leading content, commerce, and community features to provide comprehensive solutions for consumers’ ever-growing technology needs. Think of us as that tech savvy friend who helps you when you have questions about what to buy, what to pay, how to make the most of you already have, and when it’s time to upgrade. Get to know us on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.