Saturday, 20 December 2014
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A good Olympic story that needs to be told

It’s the 2060 Paralympics. And public interest in a competition that now surpasses the Olympics for excitement is at a high: the latest bionic sprint sensation has just run the 100m in four seconds, the gold medallist in the long jump has set a staggering world record and the Javelin has been moved to a larger venue to minimise the risk to spectators. It sounds far-fetched, but as our report on the latest paralympic technology reveals, it’s entirely plausible that continued advances in powered prosthetics may one day endow Paralympians with superhuman abilities.

It’s a vision of the future that raises some interesting questions about the relationship between technology and sport: how far should technology be used to deliver a competitive edge? Should the world of sports evolve to embrace everything the high-tech realm can throw at it or should it draw a line in the sand? Perhaps the solution might be found in the world of Formula 1 where huge technical advantages are proscribed in an effort to maintain a level playing field?

Whatever the answer, the relationship between engineering and sport isn’t always so controversial. Engineers are key to ensuring that big events such as the Olympics actually happen on time and on budget. And those charged with developing much of the infrastructure for the 2012 games also have another responsibility: helping to ensure that London’s Olympics generates a lasting legacy.

London 2012 has been sold to a sceptical and cash-strapped public on the basis that it will be more than a two-week-long sports event. The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) has promised a sustainable games: one that will regenerate a rundown area of London, offer a shop window for UK expertise and provide benefits long after the athletes have gone home. As discussed in our big story Engineering a lasting legacy for London’s Olympics there’s plenty of evidence that this is indeed the case.

“Engineers are key to ensuring that big events such as the Olympics actually happen on time”

Given the good news it’s puzzling that there aren’t more positive stories appearing. It seems this can’t be blamed on the poor public engagement skills of engineers but perhaps on the ODA, which many believe has insisted upon unnecessarily draconian contracts. According to some reports, contractors are banned from talking publicly about their work for six years, and the ODA reserves the right to search their offices if they suspect information is being leaked. The policy appears to stem from the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC’s) dread of ’ambush marketing’, where companies use events to achieve unofficial exposure for their brand.

It’s understandable that the IOC wants to protect its sponsors, but if the innovators at the heart of the Olympic project can’t talk freely about their involvement it’s an obstruction to one of the main promises of the games: that it would put UK expertise in the international spotlight. All of this is a great shame because there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful that the teams of engineers, architects and planners behind London 2012 might just leave a lasting legacy.

Jon Excell, Editor


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