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About this video
Applying science to sport isn't a new idea.
For thousands of years the development of sport has been inextricably linked with our understanding of science. In the first film of the Engineering Sport series, Professor Steve Haake investigates how technological and scientific advancements have played a key role in the evolution of sport.
Historical landmarks such as the industrial revolution not only drove technological changes but also social change - both of which contributed to the popularisation of sports. The invention of the humble lawn mower, the vulcanisation of rubber and the era of mass transport were key elements paving the way to today's multi-billion pound sporting industry.
Sport science is now a field in its own right, with individuals such as Steve using scientific understanding to directly aid the performance of athletes. With new technologies how can we continue to strike a balance between progress and tradition?
- Sheffield Hallam University
- Professor Steve Haake
- Sheffield, UK
- Collections with this video:
- Engineering Sport
Competition is part of what makes us human. We strive to be better, stronger, faster. We set rules, invent sports, arrange contests, and we yearn to win. Science and technology are tools we use to improve our performance. But while carbon fibre tennis rackets and aerodynamic bicycles might represent the cutting edge today, sports and technology have been linked since the very earliest Olympic games more than 2,000 years ago.
To ensure fairness, they would draw a line in the dirt. But to improve things and ensure continuity, year on year, they cut two grooves in a marble sill. You would stand on the sill and put your toes in the groove before you started. It's one of the earliest examples of sports technology, and something you can still see today at Olympia in Greece.
Fast forward through history, and we crash into the Industrial Revolution. And for the first time, the average worker had a little bit of disposable income. But there were huge numbers of them. And thanks to the new labour laws, they also had the Saturday afternoon off. So what to do with that time?
And the answer lies here in Sheffield's Kelham Island Industrial Museum and on the fantastic shelves over there. So 19th century Sheffield was a huge manufacturer of cutlery, of hand tools, and of cannon shells. So at lunch time on a Saturday afternoon, the whistle would go, and the workers would clock out using the clocking machines over there.
They would then go down the pub for a couple of hours and then pass through those turnstiles there into the football matches. And that's why traditionally football starts at 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. The story is all there on these shelves.
The concentration of people, existence of leisure time, and availability of disposable income were all required for the development of team sports like football. And that situation arose through the technology of the Industrial Revolution.
The steam engine was a key development that powered mass production. So when in 1827, Edward Budding invented the lawn mower, steam power churned them out by the thousands, so that a neat lawn was no longer the preserve of the rich. And in 1843, Thomas Hancock patented the vulcanization of rubber, so changing the rubber ball from some obscure ancient Mesoamerican invention to a mass produced play thing. So with flat lawns and a bouncy rubber ball, lawn tennis was not far behind.
When we consider the legacy of the Industrial Revolution, we might imagine scenes like this. But these mills and factories drove not just technological change, but also changes to society. And sports is an intimate part of that.
The Bessemer converter is a symbol of large-scale steel manufacture. Much of that steel went into Britain's railways, and that changed the landscape forever. Suddenly, huge numbers of people could travel long distances.
And for sport, that was a revelation. Football teams could travel to away games, and fans could follow them. And whether there were crowds, there is money. So in little more than a generation. sports had gone from something that few could afford to big business.
Technology has driven sports and, in turn, sports has driven technology. We built these huge cathedrals to sports. And we filled them with technologies to help improve our athletes' performance.
Timing is no longer done mechanically, but we use fully-automated timing systems. Telephoto lenses have revolutionised the way the media covers our sport, as have the high-speed digital cameras that have just come on the market. Modern materials have profoundly changed the nature of some of our sports. And now science is so important to sports that my title is Professor of Sports Engineering, something that couldn't have happened a mere two decades ago.
These films are about the next part of the story. They're about how we use our scientific understanding of sports to improve our athletes and how it's changed the nature of some of those sports. We go to see how technology can help a coach train their athletes more effectively--
Oh, wow, I love that.
--how we're developing ways to measure and understand a sport more deeply, but without disturbing performance, and how we can model all the elements of a sport to test the limits of the game and safeguards its future.
Ultimately, though, it's about how we keep that balance between progress and tradition. Is it cheating?
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Exploring the technology and innovation behind sporting success.