Tag Archives: Olympics

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An Olympic Gymnast’s Bad Day Is Much Worse Than Yours


Are Humans or Technology Breaking Olympic Records?


When Oscar Pistorius fought successfully to compete in the 2012 London Olympic Games with his two artificial legs, he became the most visible challenge to many people’s Olympian ideal of celebrating human athletic performance without technological tweaks or other enhancements.

Yet the attention focused on Pistorius, whose legs earned him the nickname “Blade Runner,” mostly overlooks technology’s unsung role in helping humans break Olympic records over the past decades.

Pistorius originally won gold medals in the Paralympic Games, where technology has lent a very visible helping hand (or leg) to impaired athletes in the form of wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs. But technology has also stealthily boosted athletic performances in Olympic sports ranging from high-tech cycling to javelin throwing — even if its contribution to sporting success goes unacknowledged by cheering crowds during medal ceremonies.

“I would have to ask what is the difference between Paralympic wheelchair racing and what the British cycling team has done over the last 10 years or so,” said Ian Brittain, project manager for “Peace, Olympics, Paralympics” at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University in the UK.

The Pistorius case alone reveals the deep irony in society’s views toward technology in sports and normal life, said Brittain, author of The Paralympic Games Explained. He pointed out the societal tendency to view impaired people as “less than human” because their bodies are different, yet Pistorius also received flak for having an advantage with his prosthetics and becoming “more than human.”

Technological Booster Shot

Overall, Olympic sports have made headlines more often for taking a stand against “technological doping” rather than cheering on new technological breakthroughs. The Union Cycliste Internationale moved to get rid of “superbikes” — bicycles containing aerodynamic materials and designs pioneered by the defense and aerospace industries — after the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Its resulting Lugano Charter bans many of the latest cycling technologies developed in the past 20 years.

In a similar gesture, the Federation Internationale de Natation banned full-body swimsuits after Olympians wearing Speedo’s LZR Racer swimsuit won 94% of the swimming medals and broke 15 long-course world records at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.


But such bans can’t avoid the fact that “technology is as much a part of an athlete’s armory as nutrition, training and coaching,” according to a July report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers called Sports Engineering: An Unfair Advantage?. The report pointed to technology’s role in “sporting success” going back to the ancient Greeks who first shaped an aerodynamic discus out of stone.

Steve Haake, a sports engineer at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, investigated technology’s contribution to better Olympic performances in a 2009 paper. He found that technology alone contributed to a 30% increase in both pole vault and javelin performances. In pole vaulting’s case, a new fiberglass pole that replaced the old metal pole allowed athletes to break the world record 19 times in a single decade starting in 1961.

Technology gave an even bigger boost to cycling. About 100% out of the 221% overall improvement in the one-hour cycling record came from better bicycle aerodynamics, Haake calculated.

The Arms and Legs Race

Better technology has undeniably shaped the Olympics, but people want to celebrate athletes for their hard work rather than their use of the latest sports hardware. David James, a sports engineer from Sheffield Hallam University, uncovered the most common concerns with sports technology by holding meetings attended by more than 20,000 members of the public.

People feared that sports engineering could overshadow the triumph of human spirit and effort and make certain sports easier. They also worried that the “best athletes” might not win, and that sports engineering gave rich athletes and countries an advantage over the poor (a common complaint in particular for Winter Olympic sports).

Such fears have also surfaced in the Paralympic Games where Pistorius first made his mark as an athlete. Paralympic medal winners have usually come from Western nations that have the most advanced wheelchair or prosthetic limbs in a technological “leg race,” said David Howe, a sports anthropologist at Loughborough University in the UK, in a 2011 paper called Cyborg and Supercrip.


Better technologies have played an even greater role in the Paralympics than the Olympics. Wheelchair racers have gone from being much slower than able-bodied runners to becoming much faster because of wheelchair technology — the record in the 800 meter event dropped from 1:55.67 in the 1980s to 1:32.17 today.

But Paralympic sports that rely on visible technologies such as wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs can easily overshadow Paralympic sports that feature athletes with cognitive rather than physical impairments. That’s a huge factor when it comes to public attention, media coverage and sponsorship money.

“The general public sees a wheelchair racer moving faster than a man can run — the ability is obvious,” Howe told InnovationNewsDaily. “For someone who is impaired with cerebral palsy and is an ambulant runner, they will not reach the same performances.”

Technology for Everyone

Governing bodies for Olympic sports should actively monitor the latest technologies that could affect sports performances and plan rather than react, according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers report. But it also highlighted the risks of restricting sports technology too much.

After all, Olympic sports such as tennis have overseen the advance of technologies from wooden rackets to graphite rackets without ruining the spirit of the games. Just as important, many sports technologies allow the vast majority of amateurs outside the small elite groups of professional athletes to have more fun.

The technology race in the Paralympics has an added bonus outside of athletic enjoyment — better sports technologies can lead to better wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs used by impaired people in their daily lives. Such technological spinoffs make the Paralympics somewhat similar to Formula 1 racing transforming technologies in consumer cars, Howe explained.

“Today’s everyday movement technology is far superior to the sporting technology of 30 years ago,” Howe said.

This article originally published at InnovationNewsDaily

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/02/technology-olympic-records/

The Olympics of Tech: Gaming, Hacking, Texting


Discus Thrower Holding Laptop

Every four years, the Olympic Games inspire a special brand of competition and camaraderie across the globe. But gymnasts, swimmers, runners and table tennis players aren’t the only ones worthy of praise for their accomplishments. What about the tech world?

We scoured the web to find some truly commendable achievements and contests in the fields of digital, mobile, social, programming and more.

1. Fastest Texting

Sure, you can text fast, but are you the fastest texter in the world?

Only Melissa Thompson of London can claim that title, setting the record on Aug. 22, 2010 with a 26-word message in 25.94 seconds. The text message read, “The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human.” According to The Guinness Book of World Records, Thompson used a Samsung Galaxy S with SWYPE technology.

Elliot Nicholls of Dunedin, New Zealand, had sent this same message — blindfolded — in 45.09 seconds almost three years earlier.

Individuals aren’t the only ones interested in seeing who can send an SMS message at lightning speed. LG Electronics, one the largest multinational electronics companies in the world, hosted the LG Mobile World Cup as an international texting competition on Jan. 14, 2010, in New York City. Previously, LG hosted such competitions in individual countries, such as the United States and South Korea, but the 2010 event was the first time countries competed against each other.

Ha Mok-min, 16, and Bae Yeong-ho, 17, of South Korea, made up the winning team of the 2010 Mobile World Cup. They won $100,000.

LG’s 2012 U.S. National Texting Championship will take place on Aug 8.

2. Cellphone Call Placed at the Highest Altitude

Climbing Mount Everest wasn’t enough of a feat for Rob Baber. When he reached the highest peak of the Himalayas at 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) on May 21, 2007, he took out his Motorola Moto Z8 phone and called a voicemail inbox at the telecommunications company, saying, “It’s cold, it’s fantastic, the Himalayas are everywhere. I can’t feel my toes, everyone is in good spirits — we got here in record time, it is amazing.” He also sent a text message to Motorola, which read, “One small text for man, one giant leap for mobilekind — thanks Motorola.”

The temperature was -30 degrees. Baber couldn’t leave a long message, since climbers can usually only stay on the summit for 15 minutes, and using the phone meant that he had to remove his oxygen mask. According to Baber, service was available because China Telecom set up a cell tower in Rongbuk a year prior, about one mile from the base camp.

3. Longest Skype Call

According to the website RecordSetter, which allows anyone to attempt, beat and document world records, Alex Foltyn of Sydney, Australia, set the record for longest Skype call with her friend on Oct. 20, 2011. The clock stopped at 240 hours, 10 minutes and 23 seconds, which amounts to a little over 10 days.

In order to set the record fairly, Foltyn and her friend needed to follow one rule: maintain a continuous conversation throughout the call. This guideline seems a little loose, so we have a feeling that sleeping was done in shifts, while one of the participants carried out half of the “conversation.”

However, there’s no information that confirms this. Perhaps Foltyn and her friend really did stay awake and conversed for 10 days — it isn’t much compared to one Los Angeles, Calif. man, who claimed to have not slept for 968 hours in 2010.

4. Longest Google+ Hangout

Laptop Camera

The longest Google+ Hangout is currently clocked at 143 days, and it’s still going.

On July 20, 2011, Mark Olsen started a Hangout when the Google+ platform was brand new. Little by little, more people joined, and thousands have participated since.

Olsen hoped for the “Marathon Hangout” to go on perpetually, but because of technical issues, the previous record was set at 77 days and 11 hours, according to the Hangout’s website.

The participants are hoping to beat that record, and it can be watched via live stream here.

5. Hackathons

A hackathon is an event that usually lasts between one day and one week, during which computer programmers work together on projects related to web development and software. It can also be called a hack day, hackfest or codefest.

Hackathons have been around for more than 10 years, and the premises for the events can range anywhere from app creation to calls for action and social good. According to Wired, more than 200 hackathons were held last year in the United States, and about the same were held around the world.

BeMyApp World Cup is a hackathon challenging participants to create and present a functioning Android mobile app within 48 hours. Last summer, Foursquare held its Global Hackathon, which took place simultaneously in New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and Paris, as well as remote participants. Ultimately, 500 developers from 90 countries participated.

Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is a hackathon co-sponsored by Google, Microsoft, NASA, the World Bank and Yahoo that has taken place in various cities across the globe. It brings together developers and designers to create technological solutions and aids in the fields of disaster management and crisis response. A group of Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley researchers won first place at the first RHoK in November 2009, after creating an app called “I’m OK,” which people could use to easily notify friends and family of their safety.

Perhaps even more notably, the second place winner that year, “Tweak the Tweet,” created by a Colorado University grad student, was used in disaster response during 2010’s Haiti earthquake. This edit hack used modifications of hashtags using location, status, needs, damage and other necessary elements of emergency response.

6. Pro Gaming

Video Game Controllers

Gaming can be more than just a hobby — sometimes, it becomes a lifestyle.

That can be said for many of the participants in Major League Gaming (MLG) competitions, which take place in arenas where players go head-to-head at a certain game, such as StarCraft or League of Legends. MLG was founded in 2002, giving aspiring gamers around the world the opportunity to compete, work on their skills and socialize. There are 750,000 matches each month online and live in-person Pro Circuit tournaments in cities throughout the United States.

A quick search on MLG’s results page shows player DongRaeGu in first place for the most recent StarCraft II spring competition, with 16 game wins, seven match wins and an 87.5% win rate.

The Summer League of Legends Arena took place this past weekend, and the Summer Fighting Game Arena will take place this Friday, Aug. 10. From Aug. 24 until Aug. 26, MLG will hold the Summer Championship in Raleigh, N.C., featuring all games.

All of the upcoming events will be streamed live on MLG’s website. The last championship event drew more than 4.7 million unique online viewers.

What digital feats have you come across? Let us know in the comments.

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, PeskyMonkey, skegbydave, Arsgera, erikreis, MrKornFlakes.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/06/olympics-of-tech/

Astronauts Watch Summer Olympics From Space


The six astronauts living aboard the International Space Station made time in their busy schedules to watch the 2012 Summer Olympics from space.

In a new letter to Earth, NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, an avid sports fan, describes being able to catch some of the exciting events while in orbit.

“Even with all the work we had to do, we found time to get together and watch the Olympics,” Acaba wrote in a post to his blog The Great Outer Space on Aug. 7. “Of course everyone knows there is something special about the Olympics and that feeling is not lost in space.”

Acaba and his crewmates were even able to tune in for some of the history-making moments from the 2012 Summer Olympics, which are being held in London.

“We were able to see Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian and Gabby Douglas’ nerves of steel as she won the individual Gymnastics gold medal,” he said.

Space Station’s Olympic Spirit

Acaba added that his unique surroundings drove home the significance of the Olympics.

“To have two weeks to watch the best athletes of the world compete is a dream come true for any sports enthusiast,” Acaba wrote. “To watch them while orbiting above the Earth makes them even more special for us (even though we often miss the end of a competition because we lose satellite coverage).”


Acaba drew parallels between the spirit of the Olympic games, and what the astronauts are trying to accomplish on the International Space Station.

“I have noticed two things while watching these games,” Acaba said. “One is that no matter what the sport or which country is winning, we all appreciate the efforts of the athletes and acknowledge their abilities. We truly have an international crew on the space station: three Russian cosmonauts, one Japanese astronaut and two American astronauts (one of Indian descent and one of Puerto Rican descent).”

While the individual astronauts represent their home space agencies, it is essential for the crewmembers to respect and work well with one another to keep the space station running. There are currently six astronauts living aboard the space station: NASA spaceflyers Acaba and Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Yuri Malenchenko and Sergei Revin and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.

“While we work together as one team we still maintain our national pride,” Acaba explained. “Just like watching a basketball game with your buddy that is from a different city, we give each other a hard time but congratulate with sincerity the winning team or individual. It is easy to see why we do this when you look out the window from the ISS. “We all come from the same place, Planet Earth.”

Astronauts Relate to Olympians

The Olympics also shed light on the personal stories of the athletes, and many individuals have had to overcome challenges and setbacks to represent their country on the global stage. This is also true for astronauts, Acaba said.

“Even though we come from different places, we can all relate to many of the obstacles the athletes have faced and overcome,” he wrote. “A common theme heard from all the athletes is their pride in representing their country and the hard work they have put in. I understand as I am proud to represent the United States and the Puerto Rican community as an Astronaut.”

Still, these characteristics apply to all humans, in any profession and any circumstance.

“As a school teacher, I was proud of the work I did to help develop our future leaders,” Acaba said. “I think watching the Olympics reminds us that we share one planet and that we can respect one another no matter what our differences, yet at the same time we can be proud of who we are and what we represent. I look forward to another great week of great competition and sportsmanship and of course work.”

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/14/astronauts-watch-olympics/