It has been said that the Olympics is rather like a genetic freak-show: All of the extreme outliers from the population show up and do their thing. While specific "genetic gifts" are pretty much required to reach the top of most any sport these days, a little technology can certainly assist in the process. This week's Electronic Design cover story is The 2008 TechnOlympics and discussed some of the technology that will be used in Beijing.
One item that caught my eye was the increased use of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software. Although wind tunnel testing has been used on cyclists for some time, CFD software is being used for other areas, including the design and analysis of low-drag swimsuits. Speedo claims that their new LZR suits offer a 10% reduction in passive drag over it's earlier racing suits. Of course, the passive drag of a suit is only a very small element in the overall performance so it's not like they're saying that the race times will drop by 10%, but world-class races are sometimes decided by hundredths of a second, so every little edge counts at that level.
Some might argue that access to wind tunnels and advanced modeling software offers an "unfair advantage", but a counter argument can be made that it is just another resource in the mix (like whether or not you live and train at altitude). My attitude on this is somewhat mixed, but I will say that once you start throwing advanced technologies at these sorts of problems, the concept of world records kind of falls apart. That is, while it would be perfectly accurate to say "No person has ever run this fast, thrown this far, etc.", it is also true to say that that does not mean that a former record holder couldn't have done so given the same technology.
Granted, the IOC could simply decide to "freeze" technology at a certain level, but spectators and fans do like to see world records. A second problem comes in as to where you freeze the technology. For example, we might disallow certain types of running shoes, but then why allow shoes at all? And before you know it, I can't stop thinking about this:
Yes, well, I mean, (clears throat) you know, four years ago, everyone knew the Italians were coating the insides of their legs with bolinaise, the Russians have been marinating themselves, One of the Germans, Biolek, was caught actually putting, uh, remolarde down his shorts. And the Finns were using tomato flavoured running shoes. Uh, I think there should either be unrestricted garnishing, or a single, Olympic standard mayonnaise.
But let's not get into the chemical "enhancements" just yet...
Wind Tunnel testing of bike always struck me as interesting. Somebody has to have put a power meter on the guy in the wind tunnel at a given pedaling speed on rollers and wind, and then compared to the power output on a TT course? You watch time trials and the power guys seem to win more than the aero guys lately. ( for example Shumacher/Cancellara vs Zabriskie ) You see guys bobbing their heads and turning their knees which has got to kill any aero.
Of course anybody who has ridden in the wind knows aerodynamics is important, but it would be interesting to see some way to tell where the break is between good power and aerodynamics. There must be four or five current TT bikes that are "several percent faster than any other bike ever made".