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Posted: March 15, 2012  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this Share

Leah Larocque's Column
Leah Larocque is a graduate of Queen's University (2011) in Kingston, Ontario where she ran track and cross-country. She was Ottawa's "Road Racer Of The Year" for 2010 and 2011. She has a personal best time of 17:32.9 which she set while winning the Ottawa Race Weekend 5K in 2011.
In 2010 she was the first local finisher in Emilie's Run leading the OAC Racing Team to a first place in the team competition.

Leah is currently a Publications and Communications Assistant with the Ottawa Senators. She is continuing to run and will be writing a regular column for the Runner's Web. She is continuing to run and will be writing a regular column for the Runner's Web.(Column Index)

Athletics: Sports Technology

Who would have thought a hundred years ago that we would live in a society with instant messaging, instant reply, and watch movies like Avatar? I wasn't around back then, but even ten years ago, the concept of laptops that could fit in my pocket, or texting my mom when I would be home for dinner was unimaginable. I even remember when I thought I was so cool when I bought a Walkman.

And yet, I found myself last week completely at a loss when we experienced problems in our network at work. Everything that I wanted to do, I needed some form of technology. I didn't have the internet, internal email- what was I going to do?

It was sad how much I depend on technology these days- but it gave me inspiration for this week's column. Sports and our dependence on technology. As runners, we don't really need a lot of it, but there are tons of sports, like hockey and golf, where the difference between good equipment and great equipment, can make a whole lot of difference.

The entire face of sports changed radically in the twentieth century because of new technologies that are supposed to increase performances and achievements. That, combined with a mass marketing scheme that bombard us with advertisements for new types of running shoes, golf clubs, tennis rackets, and hundreds of other sports accessories, "sports" is no longer just athletic endeavors, but a whole network of businesses and areas.

Self-improvement and exercise have become huge business potentials for sporting manufacturers to capitalize on. By combining science, marketing, and a need, new products are popping up left, right, and center promising better performances because of new equipment or products. I can no longer go to the running store or sporting goods store without being met with a huge variety of choices. Buying shoes comes down to matters of weight (do I want to carry 0.2 pounds less for an extra 50 bucks?). Socks are no longer cotton, they are made of seaweed or some sort of silver material. I don't understand what I am buying- I just buy into the fact that it will hopefully make me faster!

But it doesn't just happen on the amateur side. Sports technology has found its supreme supporters with professional athletes. Athletes like Venus Williams, Tiger Woods, and Nick Sydney Crosby now have access to far better equipment than ever before.

But I don't want to take away from their hard work and commitment to the sport. But let's be honest, no professional tennis player would even think of reverting back to a wooden tennis racket, and we runners wouldn't dream of strapping on old-school sneakers for a 5km road race.

Wearing the new specifically light weight Nike running spikes (weighing just 3.4 oz (96.39 g)), Michael Johnson became the first male athlete to win both the 200-and 400-meter sprint and he set the new world record in the 200-meter sprint. To this day, sprinters also wear spikes that weigh less to nothing and are starting to squeeze into full-body suits to reduce wind resistance; all with the idea that it could make the hundredth of a second difference between first and second place.

We have also become to rely on technology not just in terms of equipment. Technology systems can now analyze, record, and monitor, swings, strides, and follow-throughs.

It's difficult to assess precisely how much of a difference technology makes on our performance. But we cannot disregard that technology is evolving inevitably and many professional athletes are harnessing the best of it. According to one website I was reading, the evolution of the pole vault is a great example Stacy Dragila, the American gold medalist of the first ever women's Olympic pole vault was asked about the improvements seen in pole technology. To the questioner who asked, "How much of the sport depends on the pole? How much depends on the athlete?" Dragila gave this response: "That's a tough question. I think it's a 50/50 take right there. You have to be able to maximize your pole selection as well as your athleticism. If you're not comfortable with your pole, I think it's very hard for the vaulter to maximize her strength on the pole, so it's a 50/50 toss."

I didn't really know how much of a difference technology made on me as a runner. I always thought that running could be that sport that can stand on its own and not have to use a bunch of equipment. Before I bought my first pair of racing flats, I just raced in my trainers. I figured that on the road I didn't need a good grip like with spikes and cross-country. But I decided to splurge and I was so silly for not getting a pair before. Despite the lack of support, racing flats are lighter and I did feel like they made a different.

I also was never big on those GPS watches. When I run, I run. But I started to do some runs with my friend Jodi who would always wear hers, and with the beep every kilometer, it was interesting to gage pace and distance. I now own one and map out most of my routes.

Improvements in sporting technology can be a good thing. But I have become a bit suspicious recently with the rise of injuries and concussions in sports. I wonder how much of it is dependent on the increased technology that is raising the level of risk to the next level. At what point with technology outgrow what the human body can achieve? Maybe our bodies won't be able to support faster, lighter, and stronger equipment.

I know for one, I love the concept of running a faster time, or being able to train more effectively and efficiently. But I just wonder how much of a difference my shoes are making. I mean, after all, the very first runners (and still some tribes to this day) don't wear shoes at all, or wear watches. Many of the athletes that participated in the World Juniors Track and Field Championships didn't wear shoes and raced barefoot- and they won!

So, as I strap on my beeping watch, my light shoes, and my reflective jacket, I think to myself- "hmmm... I should have checked my emails before this run..."

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