Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Human Sailfish

The Sailfish is the world's fastest fish in nature and at the Beijing Water Cube, we see the human version coming from swimmers like Michael Phelps.

If you have watched any keenly competed swimming event, you will see the swimmers swimming almost at the same position across the lanes. It is humanly impossible to tell who is ahead and by how many seconds. Gone were the days of manual stop watches. Today, more advanced time pieces help to tell the precise difference between the first and the second winners by one hundredth of a second. At the men's 100m butterfly, Phelps secured his 7th gold medal by a whisker, i.e. 0.01 second (I think I take longer to blink!).

While the technologically advanced gadgets help to tell the time, what could have helped the swimmers increase their speed?

Firstly, it must be the sports talent of the swimmers coupled with more advanced training techniques used by their coaches.

Then, what they wear matters. The use of the latest Speedo Racer (see picture above) has been debated. It is a corset-like suit which helps the body to be more streamlined and hence reducing the drag in the water. It is not clear if it too, aids buoyancy. Those who oppose to its use equated Racer with ‘technological doping’. Now, that's a rather serious accusation.

Lastly, the pool design might have a part to play in helping the swimmers gain speed. At the Water Cube, the pools are designed to help to dissipate wave actions that can slow a swimmer and the pools are also given more depth to lessen water resistance. The design of the starting blocks would facilitate a propulsive takeoff which might shave a good fraction of a second. Given such features, the swimmers are probably experiencing some slightly enhanced speed.

It has become harder to break records as there is a limit to the body functions. Naturally, technology is being used creatively to help the human body to gain some advantage. The problem is that, it is increasingly hard to draw a line between the human power and the technological force. I wonder what is really accounting for all the world records and what more can technology do to help push the limits?

Short of growing fins (through human-sailfish cloning?), I am eager to see how the human body can increasingly go faster in water.


Other Olympics Stories:

From The Ancient Greece To The Middle Kingdom


The Gold Rush and The Medal Drought

Will You Eat That Humble Pie?

The Human Race To Infinity

We Have A Date in 2012

The Real Fighters In Sports

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