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The weekend science ticket. Technology is sport!

Fukushima, March 27, 2021. The Canadian McMichael William, who will run on the third day of the Olympic torch relay for the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, is a Canadian lecturer at the University of Fukushima, he has lived in the region since 2007. (MASAMINE KAWAGUCHI / YOMIURI / AFP)

On Thursday March 25, the first Olympic torch relay was launched in Fukushima, Japan. It will pass through the 47 departments of Japan before arriving in Tokyo for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on July 23. This edition of the Olympics will certainly be marked by its unprecedented health context. We know that there will be no foreign spectators due to the pandemic, and the IOC decided on Friday March 26, to “considerably reduce” its guest program for the period July 23 to August 8.

But the pandemic cannot eclipse the performance of athletes, who have been waiting for these Games to be held for a year. For several years now, science and research have been put at the service of athletes.

Technology has always shown its effectiveness in sports performance. For cyclists and skiers, the position of the athletes is for example tested in a wind tunnel to improve aerodynamics. Modifying humans for better results is not new. In Antiquity, it was believed that the removal of the spleen would improve the performance of marathon runners, for example, hence the expression “run like crazy”.

In high-level sport, the contribution of technology is all the more important as the differences between competitors are often tiny, most often of the order of a hundredth of a second for races.

Thus, at the Rio Olympics in 2016, the swimming champion, Florent Manaudou, lost his title in the 50m freestyle for a hundredth of a second.

For a 100-meter swim, what will separate the first from the second is typically a hand. One hand is 20 cm, compared to a 100-meter run. 20 cm by 100 m, that corresponds to a difference of 2 in 1000.

Christophe Clanet, Director of Sciences 2024

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Based on this observation, the Sciences 2024 research collective is trying to improve the performance of French athletes, with a view to the Olympic Games in Paris. Recently, for example, the propulsive force of swimmers has been measured by sensors to determine the most efficient movements.

Today, technology makes it possible to go further and faster, in particular by improving equipment. However, one must always consider the human-machine combination, and not just one against the other.

In the field of sailing, there is the development of foils. Obviously, we know how to manufacture this type of material. But very quickly, it must be confronted with the perceptions of individuals. Based on their personal feelings, they choose the one that seems most appropriate to them, to achieve the best performance.

Vincent Nougier, director of the CNRS sport and physical activity research group

So, when does technique take precedence over the athlete’s real performance? In the field of swimming, this was the case in 2010, when wetsuits inspired by the skin of sharks were banned, which created an inequality between swimmers.

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International sports regulations are established by the international federations of each discipline or by the International Olympic Committee. If these regulations cover the material authorized for each sport, their field of competence also extends to doping.

Tokyo 2020 focuses on precisely this subject to bequeath to the world a clean sport heritage “. For this edition of the Olympic Games, for example, athletes will have to take their urine samples in the presence of a specialist of the same sex, to avoid any cheating. No more limits for cheating, nor certainly for privacy!

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