Why world records will keep tumbling

Modern athletes will keep on breaking world records for many decades to come thanks largely to improvements in sports technology, say scientists.

Modern athletes will keep on breaking world records for many decades to come thanks largely to improvements in sports technology, say scientists.

Experts believe there are limits to how much stronger and fitter athletes can become.

But this does not apply to the design and materials used in sporting equipment.

“That means in sports where technology can make a big difference, such as sailing, rowing and cycling, competitors will

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get faster,” sports scientist Claire Davis told the BA Festival of Science yesterday.

“These are all sports where Britain has traditionally done well, and, with the right investment and training, we can expect to see some good results in at the Beijing and London Olympics.”

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UK Sport, the agency which promotes sporting excellence among the home nations, is already funding development of a new type of racing bicycle made from ultra-lightweight laminated carbon fibre.

Separate research is under way to improve the aerodynamic qualities of racing yachts.

Dr Davis, who is based at Birmingham University and specialises in the development of new materials for golf clubs, has just completed a study analysing the effect of new developments on athletes' performance.

She said rich countries such as Britain, France and Australia had an in-built advantage in sports that required heavy investment.

But the balance of power in world sport was changing as developing powers such as China began to punch their weight.

“We've tended to see Africa and developing countries generally do better in sports like athletics where so much depends on the athletes' physical performance, while a relatively small number of developed countries have been able to specialise in events where equipment is important,” said Dr Davis.

“But now we're seeing China is putting huge amounts of money and effort into improving technology and facilities in the build-up to 2008, and that is bound to be reflected in their performance in medals table.”

Examples where new equipment has helped to improve Olympic performances include the lightweight Lotus superbike first ridden by British gold medallist Chris Boardman, the introduction of aerodynamic “shark-skin” swimsuits pioneered by Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe and the use of improved materials by pole vaulters.

The pole vault record has increased from 4.5 metres to more than 6 metres since wooden and steel poles were replaced with flexible, energy-absorbent glass fibre.

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