Archive for December, 2010

Photo courtesy of Cartoonstock.com

Technology in sports has run amuck. This past summer at the World Championships of swimming Olympic hero, Michael Phelps, threatened to boycott all international competition, until the full-body, polyurethane swimsuit worn by German rival Paul Biedermann is banned from competition.

Is there anything more basic than swimming? Can you get from here to there in the water faster than the next guy?

Today we have square heads on golf clubs that resemble toasters. And the little dimpled balls they – and we – hit were not in our grandfather’s bag.

Don’t even get me started on baseball. A culture of illegal drugs, maple bats, and juiced balls make broken-bat home runs seem reasonable.

I would think that swimming would be an unlikely candidate for being fundamentally altered by technological advancements. I would be wrong.

The super-suit that Biedermann was wearing shaves an average of .75 seconds per one hundred meters. In a sport where .01 seconds won a gold medal in the last Olympics, this seems significant.

In the two hundred meter race in question, Biedermann gained 1.5 seconds because of his outfit. Phelps lost by 1.23 seconds. Why didn’t the guy just strap an outboard motor to his back?

Some sports have turned into an arm’s race more than an athletic competition.

The effect? These sports have no history. Each is an entirely different sport than the sport of the same name in the previous generation. Equipment nearly as incomparable as a space shuttle and the Wright brothers’ plane completely dissolves all sense of heritage and legacy in sports.

Comparing generations in any sport is a challenge, even when equipment isn’t a factor. What boxing fan wouldn’t love to see the outcome of a battle between Joe Lewis and Muhammad Ali?

Tiger Woods is constantly declared the greatest golfer of all time. He may be. His game is mind-boggling. On the other hand, Tom Watson – just months short of 60 years old and coming off a hip replacement – with new equipment can come one 12 foot putt from winning a British Open where Tiger misses the cut. It makes you wonder.

Sixty years old makes you the Dick Clark of sports. What would dinosaurs like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, or even Ben Hogan have done with modern equipment in their physical prime? Were their skills as good or better than Tiger? We will never know.

What’s the greater accomplishment? Jimmie Foxx leading the league with 35 home runs in 1939, or Mark McGwire hitting 70 in 1998? Your guess is as good as mine.

I won’t hold my breath, but it would sure be fascinating to see sports like these standardize key equipment.

Would it be outrageous for the MLB to say that bats are going to be made out of one kind of wood? Why has swimming equipment changed at all?

Don’t leave out sponsors, just make it so that all suits have to be made out of one material and cover a set portion of the body. Please don’t interpret this as an endorsement of skimpy, European men’s speedos. The image alone makes me want to shake the Etch-a-Sketch of my mind.

Sports are about what you as an athlete can do with your body. They should not in any sense be about what your equipment can do.

Sports, at their essence, nearly define the concept of fairness. Cliches like “an equal playing field” or “playing by the rules” arose because true sport can only exist within defined parameters.

Whether it’s game 7 of the World Series or Wiffle Ball with friends it comes down to beating your opponent within a defined set of agreed upon rules and common equipment. No excuses.

If you miss the fastball, can’t drain the jumper at the buzzer, or if you lip out that four footer, thats it. You have nothing to say.

Unfortunately, it seems that we are past the point of no return. Yet here’s one guy who’s hoping someone can find a way to restore sanity.


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