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  Game on: At the Olympics, tech makes a jump

Game on: At the Olympics, tech makes a jump

Published : Aug 26, 2016, 1:34 am IST
Updated : Aug 26, 2016, 1:34 am IST

A British man once won the tennis gold at the inaugural modern Olympic Games in 1896 after going to Athens as a tourist.


A British man once won the tennis gold at the inaugural modern Olympic Games in 1896 after going to Athens as a tourist. An American once nailed a discus gold in the same edition despite not having practised with the circular disc ever before. Such romantic tales are not only anachronistic in this age of cutting-edge technology, millennials would also find them hardly credible. Although it would be an exaggeration to say that a winsome technological tool is enough to steer one to the podium, medal-chasing athletes can’t wear technophobia as a badge of honour these days.

From archery to swimming, the importance of harnessing modern technology to maximise medal chances at the Olympics can’t be stressed enough. Yes, amateur ethos were the bedrock of the Olympics in the first half of the century but the Games are for the most professional among professionals today. Nothing is left to chance as micro seconds and millimetres often prove to be the difference between agony and ecstasy.


With their hi-tech ear plugs and spectacles, pistol and rifle shooters at the 2016 Rio Olympics resembled the cast of Star Wars. In addition to a steady hand and steely nerves, they need technological doping, which is of course not forbidden, to reach the pinnacle. Only those who are ready to co-exist with mechanical iris, lens, sights and blinders can hope to be successful. As an in-depth article on Wired elucidates, “Olympic shooting isn’t about focusing on the target itself, it’s about aligning your mark with your firearm’s front and rear sights.” In other words, the alignment is as critical as your ability to hold your nerve and keep your hand steady. The article adds that the optical instruments are anything but simple. Customised shooting glasses manufactured by a Swiss company are made from 100 different pieces.


The main purpose of using a lens, a powerful one at that, is to bring the sights on a gun into focus along with the target. As an idle eye is predisposed to looking at a distant object, it is crucial for the shooter to concentrate on the gun sights that are in the foreground. The intriguing article adds that the target can turn fuzzy if the lens is used to focus on the front and rear sights of the gun alone. However, a mechanical iris which is mounted behind the lens comes in handy for the shooter to increase the depth of field. In other words, the shooter can bring both the sights and the target into focus using the adjustable iris. The key is controlling the amount of light that reaches the shooting eye — the shooter can have a greater depth of field with less light. Shooters use blinders on the non-dominant eye to shut out several distracting visuals.


India’s Abhinav Bindra had to make do with inferior sights at the Olympics as his first-choice equipment had broken into pieces during a preparatory trip to Rio. Bindra missed the bronze medal in the 10m air rifle by a whisker and the ace shooter could have reached the podium had he had the benefit of his customised first-choice sights. But the good sport that the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medallist is, he didn’t offer it as an excuse for his failure to land a medal in Rio.

Boxing, cycling, rowing and swimming also use technology generously to gain tiny advantages that make a big difference eventually.

Boxers from the US pack a tiny sensor into their wraps to calculate the number of punches they land in practice and the speed at which they are thrown. The accumulated data help coaches come up with better gameplans. In rowing, analytics is a vital tool for coaches as they can pore over data collected by a sensor attached to boats. From stroke rate to force exerted, sensors throw up valuable insights. Wearable technology is another ubiquitous tool that swimmers use in training to avoid burn-out before competitions. A simple watch-like strap is also useful to prevent injuries. That a preternatural swimmer like Michael Phelps uses wearable technology is proof to its efficacy.