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Digital Technology and the Olympics: When Is it Cheating?

February 6, 2014
at 5:20 pm PST

We all know how close we are to our mobile devices and digital technology, and how much we rely on these new tools – 87% of us use our mobile device while on the go and 81% of users read email on their mobile – and all of us use some combination of the web, mobile, video, social media, computing power, collaboration tools, and digital networks in our daily business lives.

We take advantage of advanced digital technologies for efficiency, effectiveness, and loftier performance in business, so why wouldn’t an athlete use these technologies to their advantage while in training or on the field of athletic competition?

  • football helmetNFL quarterbacks have in-helmet speakers and microphones to get plays called-in from the coaches on the sidelines (as noted by the green sticker on the back of the helmet).
  • The America’s Cup racing teams go to elaborate measures and spend incredible sums of money to hone their boat hull technologies for competitive advantage.
  • Better strength-training machines (and outlawed performance-enhancing drug cocktails) optimize the human body for maximum performance.
  • Special fabric technologies reduce wind- and water-drag for a few hundredths-of-a-second advantage in skiing and swimming competitions.

The examples are all around us, in virtually every sport or game, including the university-level, professional, and the Olympics.

Competitive Advantage from Technology in Business and Sports – Where’s the Line? 

Is this a fair practice? If everyone has equal access to the technology, then is it fair? What about “rich” teams or countries having an advantage over their “poor” competitors? At what point does technology tip beyond being a clever innovation along the continuum of progress to cross the line into cheating for unfair advantage?

I don’t think I’m equipped to draw that clear line, but I do want to raise the question for you to ponder for yourself as you watch the Winter Olympics over the next few weeks and revel in the performance of extraordinary athletes aided by their technological innovations.

Here are a few digital technological advances in use for the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi – watch for them:

Omega Bobsled Data Collector:

Swiss watchmaker Omega designed a measuring unit that mounts on the olympicsfront of the bobsled; it has a speed sensor, 3D acceleration sensor and 3D gyro-sensors to track speed and velocity angles. Using this data, coaches and athletes can work on specific ways to optimize run times and strategies.

Ice Skating Sensors:

Using a form of motion capture technology, an ice skater straps on body sensors that translate movements into a 3D graphic. Coaches use the model to evaluate the skater’s technique – much more efficiently than they can without the technology, accelerating the skater’s ability to learn jumps and spins.

Cross Country Ski Simulator:

This elaborately configured treadmill is designed to closely mimic the experience of navigating a tricky ski course, all in the comfort of being inside. The system is hooked up to cameras and data-crunching software that records movement and body vital signs – coaches will use this feedback to develop better techniques and ways to improve cardiovascular conditioning.

Training Aps:

uber_coach_appUbersense Coach, is an app to improve an athlete’s performance through slow motion video analysis. The bobsled team has been using this app; it records the activity of the athlete and has the ability to break it down into super slow motion, allowing comparison of technique side-by-side for analysis and any flaws in performance.

Coach’s Eye, also a video analysis app, is in use by the freestyle mogul athletes; it allows coachs_eye_apptrainers to break down footage of practice jumps in extreme detail (frame by frame in high resolution) and make instant technical adjustments and send recommendations to the top of the hill. It also allows for ‘remote’ coaching, the coach can be in another location (or state) to review and send feedback.

And of course, there is much more:

  • Olympic wear – a heatpant that maintains muscle warmth when the athlete is not competing.
  • The use of social media by the Jamican bobsled team to solicit crowdsourced donations to fund their trip to Sochi.
  • Snowboarders are now using eye-tracking goggles that have two cameras, onc focused the user’s eyes and one on the track ahead.
  • Mach 39 speed skating suit – designed by Lookheed Martin, this new ‘skin’ is designed to reduce drag on the skater.
  • Sled redesigned by BMW – the US bobsled team had their sled redesigned: narrower, sleeker and wrapped in carbon fiber, hoping to win the first Olympic goal for US in 78 years.
  • Sky TechSport Sochi Simulator – uses GPS to create a digital environment that’s a replica of the Sochi mountain course; allowing snowboarders to educate themselves and ‘practice’ through twists and turns, even mimicking real wind conditions, vibrations and even g-force effects.

I don’t believe any of this technology was in use at the winter Olympic Games in Sapporo (Japan) in 1972, when an Austrian skier was declared ineligible to compete as he had allowed his name and photo to be used in commercial advertising. Imagine how far we’ve come… and just try to imagine the Olympics (or the Superbowl, World Series, or World Cup) of the future.

Surprise: Cisco has a Role in This 

Cisco is very involved in the Olympics. For the London Olympic Games in 2012, Cisco was a sponsor and provided core networking equipment, partnering with British Telecom as a service provider; keeping the games connected.

Cisco is involved in the 2014 Winter Olympics, as well. The NBC television crews are using Cisco technology to track, broadcast, organize, and stay connected with each other and with their massive global audience. Specifically, Cisco is providing video hardware and cloud software components from its Videoscape TV services delivery platform to support transcoding and content management.

Cisco is also a sponsor of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games; again providing core networking, and partnering with Embratel as a service provider.

Be sure to watch the games and be part of the conversation! Last summer already saw more than 150M Olympic tweets.

What Do You Think about the “Technology Advantage” in Athletics? 

  • What other technologies do you know of that are in use in these Winter Olympics, or in other major sporting/athletic events?
  • How do you feel about drawing the “line” between fair or unfair competitive advantage from technology?
  • How do you think this is resolved – if it ever is, given the ongoing march of technology?

I’m interested in your perspective and your observations as I formulate my own opinion on “drawing the line”  on the “fair” use of technology in sports.  Meanwhile, for those of us who enjoy the bleeding-edge of technology, it sure is fun to watch, while considering the future implications, how far we’ve come, and how much more is possible.

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1 Comments.


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