Gaming London's Olympics to break records

At the London Olympic Games, athletes broke many world records. How? With help from facilities engineered to give them an edge.

You might have missed it in the flurry of London Olympic Games coverage during the last two weeks, but the Wall Street Journal ran a very interesting story about how each successive Olympics event is increasingly slanted toward helping athletes break world records.

Matthew Futterman, Jonathan Cleff and Geoffrey Fowler write:

From the swimming pool, to the velodrome, to the gymnastics venue and the running track, London has produced a series of performances that few expected ahead of the events, when everything from chilly weather to rule changes were supposed to hinder competitors from setting new standards. Much of that is due to facilities engineered to enhance performance and satisfy the desires of sports fans who yearn to see athletes achieve what none have done before. Every sport's federation has its rules and specifications for the design of the competition venues, but within those rules there are opportunities to innovate.

Examples include an overlapping duct system in the Olympic pool to "all but eliminate waves,' springier and more sophisticated gymnastics flooring, and a velodrome so angle- and climate-controlled that the British team ended up breaking records in six different events.

In sports science, there's a fine line between "innovation" and "cheating," and it's interesting to see how regulators navigate a decidedly unclear path into the future.

(For example,  Oscar Pistorius' artificial legs were initially said to be an unfavorable advantage in a sprint, yet systems that deliberately thin the air in a room are deemed O.K. for cyclists. And then there's the drugs issue. Is the only difference a one-versus-many approach? How do athletes from previous Games feel about it?)

Whatever the result, it's forcing many equipment vendors -- Speedo for swimsuits, Mondo for running tracks, and a bevy of specialists -- to rethink how they approach the design and construction of these facilities. The results have been, well, a smashing success.

An Olympics Built for Records [WSJ]

Photo: Mondo

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