SHARONHigh-tech sports improve lives
By Lynn Saternow
Looking for a new bicycle? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve got this Olympic special pursuit bike for only $5 million which we know is good because we tested it in a wind tunnel at a cost of only $40,000 per hour.
Sound ridiculous? Sure, and obviously it’s not the kind of pitch you’re going to get when you walk into a local bike shop. But such a bike does exist. The ultratechnical bike built to the tune of $5 million is the prototype for Olympic bike racers. And the cost of the wind tunnel is also true, an example of the high price of technology that permeates all sports activities in today’s high-tech world.
And while much of this technology is used to build equipment which is lighter and stronger, as well as athletes who are bigger and faster, it also has a "trickle-down" effect on the average person who likes to jog in the park, take a nice bike ride through the area, work out at their favorite fitness center, golf, bowl or shoot hoops.
"The average mountain bikes we have requests for probably cost between $200 and $3,200," said Mike Kavulla, owner of Bicycle and Fitness World, Sharon. And while he’s had no orders for a $5 million bike, he admits that all bikes have been improved because of technology.
"The biggest advancements are in the weight of the bikes, the lightness. The bikes we grew up with were carbon steel; they’re now titanium, carbon fiber, aluminum ... the frame materials have a lot to do with it. The mountain bikes have suspension systems, with a front shock absorber, or dual suspension, with the back separated from the rear."
Kavulla pointed out that most of the bikes he sells are for pleasure riders, which have been designed especially for a ride through the park or around the neighborhood. "The mountain bikes are based on the old paperboy bikes," he said. "The new bikes are comfort bikes, a modified mountain bike. They have nice wide tires. They are taking mountain bikes and equipping them with more of a street tire, with a shock absorber in the seat post. People feel safer on a wider tire. The hardcore mountain bikes are actually dirt motorcycle technology crossovers.
"The bikes that are best suited for experienced riders are the hybrid bikes, a cross between the ram’s horn, skinny bar 10-speeds and the mountain bike."
But of course the same technology that goes into bike structure also goes into improvement of all athletic equipment. The millions spent on technology is the reason that equipment costs so much.
Golf clubs are constantly changing as a variety of metals, from aluminum, titanium, steel and combinations of such, as well as graphite, are used to help golfers hit the ball farther and straighter. Baseball and softball bat makers are constantly testing and mixing materials which will help hitters pound the ball farther. It became so bad that some of the bat materials had to be outlawed because the ball came off the bats at dangerous speeds. Even at the major league level where wood bats are still mandatory, the shaping of the bats have undergone changes. The skinnier handles allow greater bat speed and result in more long balls.
Bowling ball materials are tested and retested until you have balls that almost explode against the pins when they make contact.
Equipment for high school sports, especially contact sports such as football and wrestling, are constantly being improved to provide better protection for the athletes.
Athletic shoes of course -- at least we’re told -- are becoming better every year. However, who endorses them may be the main reason many of today’s youth buy them. The Olympics are a venue where many sports equipment manufacturers choose to display their innovations.
We saw the ultimate in technology in shoes unveiled at the last Olympics when world 200-meter track champion Michael Johnson appeared in his specially designed gold spikes. At the Atlanta Games four years previous, Johnson displayed shoes which weighed a mere 3.4 ounces, designed by Nike. Other shoes are fitted to the individual athlete, depending on the running style and degree of body bend during their events.
Some of the swimmers at the 2000 Australia Games wore the new skin-tight body suits which are supposed to cause less friction in the water than the human body.
In the last winter Olympics, "smart skis" which had sensors to measure vibrations from the shifting ground surface were used. Better materials and streamlining methods are always under review for events such as the bobsled and luge.
But equipment is not the only technology which constantly changes. New computerized studies of athletes in almost every sport are utilized to spark the ultimate production of each individual. And when you consider that the difference between a gold medal and a silver or bronze is a matter of tenths or hundreds of a second in many sports, this becomes very important.
Of course, technology also delves into the area of nutrition where athletes experiment to find a diet that best aids them in their sport. Dietary supplements are a huge market as the average amateur athlete watches what the "big boys" use. Steroids of course are illegal, but other supplements like "andro" which was made famous by Mark McGwire when he broke the home run record two years ago came into vogue. However, while it is not banned by baseball, it is illegal for use in some arenas, including the Olympics.
The supplement of choice today is creatine. It is a natural substance produced in the body and aids muscle bulk and endurance. However, the long-range effects of use are unknown because it is relatively new. Some scientists feel it will cause no damage if used properly, but others prefer to take a wait-and-see attitude and disagree with its use. French scientists recently have linked it to cancer, according to reports.
Another big area where we see new developments all the time is in training equipment. Many of the advances are made to produce better training for professional athletes, but everyone who is involved in any kind of fitness benefits from these advances.
"One of the big things I notice, and there is a lot of information on, is the Hammer strength equipment," said Lou DeJulia, director of the Buhl Wellness Center at the F.H. Buhl Club, Sharon, which services more than 1,200 users. "They use computer models and try to get proper angles which mimic free weights.
"They come as close to free weights as possible, yet have the safety features of the machines. Our people tend toward machines more (than free weights).
"The big thing now is pushing heart-rate monitors on fitness equipment. By measuring, you can experience an intensity that burns just fat or a greater intensity for cardio-vascular training. We also have elliptical trainers, which are non-weight bearing and don’t beat up up."
DeJulia pointed out that many people like running on treadmills more than on the street, because it is easier on the joints. "One of the advantages of a treadmill is the cushioning aspect," he said. "Running on the street -- roads don’t give."
So technology races on and so do today’s athletes, whether you’re at the professional level or just out for a weekend jog ... whether you’re a Tiger Woods or a 10-year-old girl knocking a golf ball around the Buhl Farm Golf Course ... whether you play football for the New York Giants or the Sharon High Tigers ... whether you’re in an Olympic weight-lifting event or "pumping iron" at a local physical therapy facility that helps young people ... whether you’re Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France, or a senior citizen wheeling a bike through Greenville’s Riverside Park ... whether you’re dieting to make the Iowa University wrestling team or just cutting off a few pounds after the holidays ... whether you’re Picabo Street flying down the hill for a gold medal or just enjoying a Saturday afternoon skiing at Peak ‘n Peak.
Technology makes our sporting lives better!
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