The technology Olympics

As Vancouver winds down from the Winter Olympics this week, all eyes have turned to London in anticipation of plans for the 2012 Summer Games.

The British teams have a lot to learn from the Canadians and competing countries, US and Germany, who between them racked up over 30 gold medals.

However, one area that the UK can place its confidence in is the improving technical innovations that are supporting its athletes.

Britian’s strength in this area became evident in the women’s skeleton bob, when Amy Williams brought back a gold medal despite basing much of her preparation on wind tunnel testing.

Fellow British skeleton bob teammate, Kristan Bromley, told The Engineer that technology would become increasingly crucial in future medal counts.

‘I think it will be a sport where winning will be on absolute fine details,’ he said. ‘The athleticism will hit a point were everyone is very equal. I think technology and engineering will play a more important role in 20 years time because it has become an increasingly lucrative source for improving performance.’

UK Sport, the group set up to manage public investment in the Olympics, is spending around £5m on research and innovation in the run up to the games. Much of the funding will be targeted at sports that the UK is traditionally strong in, such as sailing, cycling and rowing.

Examples of current research include a project by engineering firm Frazer-Nash who is working with UK Sport to develop a stationary cycling ergometer that is able to simulate the resistance experienced by cyclists on a track.

A separate study by Prof Guang-Zhong Yang from London’s Imperial College has led to the development of a sensor that sits behind an athlete’s ear to enable real-time performance monitoring and improve training feedback.

Further innovations are currently underway in leading sports engineering centres, such as Loughborough University’s Sports Technology Research Group and the Sports Engineering Group at Sheffield University. With technical preparations becoming just as important as athletic ability, the London 2012 Games look set to usher in a new era of high-performance sports engineering.