In today's Olympic Games, technologists compete against technologists as much as athletes compete against athletes. Once limited to two, natural gifts and training, the factors behind Olympic success now number four. To the first two we must add enhancement of equipment—and of bodies—as well as psychological support offered athletes.
The February 27, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal featured an article titled “The Olympics of Engineering,” which offers an interesting look at the relationship between technology and athletic success. In an interview last year, Canadian bobsled team member Helen Upperton affirmed that “equipment matters. And it's depressing to lose out to somebody whose equipment is superior to yours.” She did not have any reason to be depressed in Vancouver: “She used to find herself finishing fourth or fifth in bobsled races behind rivals with newer, sleeker sleds. Then a Canadian business group called B2ten bought her a new sled for nearly $100,000. She began winning medals in World Cup races. On Wednesday, she won a silver medal in the two-woman race.” Clothing matters too. “One prominent innovation in Vancouver is the Canadian speed skaters’ suit, with its trademark layer of translucent material at hip level. The feature is designed to help compress the area, making it more aerodynamic.” Why not a “computerized system in the tail of the skis”? On such skis, Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn, of the US Team, won five medals. “USA Hockey placed heart-rate monitors under the uniforms of its women players to monitor exertion during practices and games, including Thursday's final, in which the Americans lost the gold medal to Canada.”
In the hierarchy of Olympic success factors, natural gifts and training used to hold first place. In the future, technology could make all the difference. And everyone knows that technology means power and money.