Athletics: Athletes Fear Technology's Influence on Future

Article excerpt

SYDNEY'S OLYMPIC triumph has created a problem for the movement as a whole.

In two words: Follow That.

No wonder Greece, which should have had the Centenary Games four years ago rather than Atlanta, is looking distinctly queasy about its obligation to host the 2004 Olympics in the cramped, chaotic environs of Athens.

But perhaps there is a way forward for the Greeks who are bearing their gift so warily. In six words: If You Can't Beat Them, Alter Them.

A meeting of minds convened by the sportswear manufacturers Nike before the Sydney Games got under way offered an intriguing glimpse into the way athletics in particular, and the Olympics in general, might evolve in coming years.

The nine-times Olympic champion Carl Lewis, multiple world pole vault champion Sergei Bubka and Prince Albert of Monaco - bobsleigher at the 1998 Winter Games - were among a panel invited to consider future developments within sport for the edification of an invited media audience.

The esteemed performers - and Prince Albert - were prompted by the input of two designers involved with Nike's recent aerodynamic bodysuits. Like a US version of Reeves and Mortimer - that is, minus humour - this pair threw out a number of whacky suggestions as to how the stodgy old spectacle of track and field might warp-speed itself into the 21st century.

"At one time," one of them declared, "every sport will have the option to be modified or tweaked." For Athens, that time cannot come soon enough. As any implied comparison with Sydney is doomed to failure, the priority for the Athens Organising Committee, I would submit, is to change the nature of the product so profoundly that comparisons become odious.

Here's how.

Get sprinters in a tunnel with a howling wind behind them - and simply measure maximum velocity. We just want to know who's the fastest man, right? Get those pole vaulters on a new pole, one that does more than bend but actually propels its handler over the bar. Why didn't they think of it before? Calling all hammer, discus and javelin throwers. Hey! From now on - get this - you perform in a glass dome, watched by spectators as if you were in a squash match. Winners and losers are determined by calculating the projected distance of the implement thrown based on the angle and speed of delivery. …