Performance enhancing paralympics technology
Advances in technology are everywhere, and the sporting world is no different. From swimming costumes that simulate the skin of a shark, to cycling helmets similar to a Star Wars movie, science is an integral part of sport.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Paralympic Games, with recent years seeing incredible developments and performances. As David James, senior sports engineer at Sheffield Hallam University says: “The Paralympics are interesting in regards to technology, as science is at the core of the whole movement. Paralympic sport is intimately wedded to technology. It couldn’t exist without it.”
South African Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee, is perhaps the most striking example of this today. Pistorius runs using specially designed prosthetics, the slanted foot pieces earning him the nickname ‘blade-runner’.
The Paralympic athlete is also competing in the Olympic Games alongside able-bodied runners, sparking controversy over the advantage his use of technology might give him.
According to James, although the rise in prosthetic technology has enabled Paralympians to improve their performance, athletes across the board are looking for new ways to up their game.
“Everyone in sport is trying to enhance their performance,” says James. “We also design equipment such as tennis rackets for able-bodied players too, technology is not exclusive to the Paralympics.”
When to draw the line with technology
Despite these advances in innovations, there are still important questions to be considered. For example, at what point should athletes stop attempting to better themselves? And do these advances de-value athleticism and the idea of pushing human physical and psychological boundaries?
Members of the sporting community could debate these issues for days, but most would agree it’s difficult to know where to draw the line. Technology is ingrained in all aspects of sport, not just the Paralympics, although admittedly on a smaller scale.
For this reason, James feels that Paralympics and the Olympics should remain strictly separate events.
“If cross-over became more common, there would be a much greater need to regulate enhancement, which would prematurely restrict our opportunity to see what technology can do, to push it to its very limits."
Two sides to the technology
While there has been a focus on the effects technology has on improving athlete’s abilities, it is important to take into account several other factors that could be said to be ‘unfair’.
“It’s not just about what an athlete is wearing, or the equipment he or she has. This is a miniscule cost in the grand scheme of things,” says James. “The real costs come from developing a sporting infrastructure in a country, and training schemes.”
James says: “Countries will still be able to invest wildly different amounts into their athletes, even if the development of technology is limited. It’s far too simplistic to just say ‘It’s not fair.’"
Technology's future in sports
So what is the future of sports technology? Experts such as David James are developing high-tech “measurement devices,” which will be able to record every aspect of an athletes performance in real time.
This will be hugely beneficial in terms of training and improving performance, and allow athletes to tailor their regimes to ensure they reach the very best of their ability.
“New developments like these are so important to keeping the future of sport innovative and exciting,” James says. “We want to aid athletes in being the best that they can be.”