Does technological doping explain the inequality of medals at the Olympic Games?
In 2016, a standing parliamentary committee noted that India spent only three paisa per capita per day on sports – the United States, on the other hand, spent 22 rupees.
It’s no secret that countries with more money to spend on sport can outperform those without. As a 2017 article on the effect of public spending on sport on the medal share noted, “Olympic success is a zero-sum game. If the increase in public spending on sport increases a country’s share of medals, the medal shares of all other participating countries naturally decrease.
While Olympic sports like the 200m and 400m races have been around for thousands of years, modern athletes would give their ancient peers a run for their money, and not just because of their fitness. Modern running shoes, tracks and training methods allow contemporary athletes to break records at ever greater intervals.
While Tokyo 2020 has seen perhaps the most rigorous anti-doping efforts to date, it has also seen technology come to the forefront of an athlete’s performance. When the men’s and women’s 400-meter hurdles world records were broken at the Olympic trials in June, all four athletes were using a shoe technology called “super crampons”.
This technology uses an ultralight energy return Pebax foam and curved carbon fiber plates, which improve efficiency and reduce weight at the same time. Scientific studies have confirmed its ability to reduce runner energy costs by up to 4%.
In contrast, the winner of the 400-meter hurdles at Tokyo 2020 did so without the spikes. But despite his victory, Norway’s Karsten Warholm criticized his American rival Rai Benhamin for wearing Nike’s Air Zoom Maxflysuper crampons. “He had these things in his shoes, which I hate. I don’t see why you should put anything under a sprint shoe, ”he said. “If you want padding, you can put a mattress in it. But if you put on a trampoline, I think it’s a bull ****, and I think that takes away the credibility of our sport, ”he said.
Of course, whether or not a shoe makes a run unfair depends on whether all athletes wear it. The Nike ZoomX Vaporfly 4% sells for less than Rs 19,695, an unaffordable price for many athletes at the starting stage. But the alleged 4 percent improvement in performance could mean the difference between a medal and nothing at all.
Concerns about the performance enhancing capabilities of shoes led World Athletics to ban shoes that provide “unfair help or advantage”. Among the shoemakers, Nike’s unchallenged lead led to complaints, but also a surprising twist: Rival shoemakers allowed their sponsored athletes to wear Nike.
Even the fastest man in the world has taken a stand against the shoes. Following criticism of the super-spike technology and claims that would allow ordinary athletes to beat Usain Bolt’s record, the Jamaican told Reuters: “When I was told about it, I couldn’t believe it was is what we’ve been down to, you know what I mean, that we’re really adjusting the spikes to a level where it now gives the athletes an advantage to run even faster.
“It’s weird and unfair for a lot of athletes because I know in the past they (the shoe makers) have actually tried and the governing body has said ‘No you can’t change the tips’, So knowing that now they’re really doing that is laughable, ”added the eight-time Olympic champion.
When Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Italy won the 100m gold in what was widely seen as a surprise, he was wearing modified Nike spikes.
So what role do inequalities play? Even among the most decorated Indian athletes, Olympic quality equipment is not an easy acquisition. The national 100m record holder, Dutee Chand, asked Odisha’s government in 2016 to provide her with a new pair of cleats because hers were worn. “Running shoes are quite expensive and I am asking the state government to provide a set of tracksuit and a pair of running shoes so that I can give my best performance,” Dutee reportedly said.
If Chand could struggle to acquire these shoes, what about the athletes who are not yet famous enough to write to the prime ministers of their state for help?
An article on Inequality.org showed how gold medal counts were dominated by wealthier countries, although smaller nations like Kenya and Jamaica could exceed their weight for other medals. A study by The Economist found that the share of global GDP was the most important factor in determining success at the Olympics. “On average, other things constant, a two percentage point share of global GDP (measured at purchasing power parity) translates into a three percentage point share of Olympic medals,” he noted. .
This difference manifests itself in many other factors than the equipment used by the athletes. Everything from the training facilities available to athletes’ familiarity with participating in international events and the media spotlight to the mere ability of certain countries to dominate certain sports can determine Olympic success.
When technologies start to add an unfair advantage, government agencies tend to lump them together: that was the fate of Speedo’s LZR Racer swimsuit (co-developed by NASA), which reduced friction by 24%. When 23 athletes at Beijing 2008 broke records after wearing it, it sparked an uproar that years later led to FINA’s international swimming governing body banning athletes from using the wetsuit. because it was considered to have conferred an unfair advantage.
The debate over whether technology harms or adds to Olympic sports continues to rage. In a time when even tissue on the body could improve performance, what if you took the technology out of it entirely?
A BBC article titled “What if Olympic Athletes Return to Naked Competition?” Examined the history of naked athletes at the Olympics, a feat that was seen in ancient Greece. However, modern prudishness and different sensitivities from country to country would make this a challenge.