Inside Track

Top 4 Moments Tech Impacted the Olympics

An Olympics comes around every two years and the pomp and circumstance of the event is one that is watched from every corner of the globe.

When athletes come together in Tokyo, they are representing their home countries and bringing people together in a shared celebration that can be rivaled by few other sporting events.

While the Olympic focus is squarely on the accomplishments of the world’s best athletes, it’s also a case study of how athletes and fans consume them. Technology has greatly impacted the ways in which these games are beamed to people around the globe, and the proliferation of mobile devices and social media has only helped get the games in more people’s hands. Media rights for this event are massive. NBCUniversal paid $7.65 billion for U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics through the 2032 games.

Here are a few examples of how technology has changed the way we play, watch, and share in the revelry of the Olympics.

Enhancing Performance Through Clothing

From uniforms used to enter the opening ceremonies to athletic wear built for speed on land or water, Olympic athletes make big fashion statements but more importantly, understand that what they wear can be the difference between a podium finish. Nothing underscores the innovation that is changing sports more than imagining how to deconstruct a swimsuit down to its molecular level. More than almost any Olympic sport, every aspect of a swimmer’s training is built around reducing their friction in the water while optimizing their performance to be the fastest in the pool. Swimmers are getting faster and faster, smashing world records. Olympic champion Michael Phelps has recently teamed up with his coach Bob Bowman who worked with Aqua Lung to custom design suits that will be used by a dozen athletes in Tokyo. They are built to lessen the compression the swimmers feel when moving through the water, reducing the lactic acid that causes muscle stress and fatigue.

Using a unique “adaptive compression fabric technology” designers were able to create a suit that had distinct panels that would stretch in dynamic ways, specifically as the body part would. For example, the suits have tighter compression in the glute, hip, and stomach area so that the body can remain as parallel to the surface as possible. They saw a 1 percent improvement in glide when they compared to other fabrics or suits—that one-digit percentage gain can be the difference between Gold and Bronze.

Clothing That Regulates Temperature

One of the greatest challenges has been unraveling clothing in a way that helps athletes control and regulate temperature. If you can solve this riddle, you’ve gotten closer to helping athletes from getting too cold or from overheating. At MIT, researchers have been able to create clothing that can cool 5 degrees during shipping and believe that this application can be implemented at the fabric level of the clothing to regulate temperature for athletes during competition. There is a lot of potential here for other professionals including firefighters who have to enter extreme heat as well as consumers looking to stay warm (or cool) hiking and spending time outdoors.

Virtual Reality Live

With many concerns over COVID-19 in Japan and the games already postponed a year, most fans will be watching these games from somewhere other than Tokyo. In the past, social media and our traditional television would be the best ways to see events. You could tune in live and then catch the biggest moments or replays on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Virtual Reality (VR) provides an entirely new layer of experiences for fans to see new angles and views they would not be able to get on the broadcast. In the South Korean games, NBC aired more than 50 hours of live VR coverage. NBCUniversal has spent billions of dollars to secure the rights to the Olympics through 2032 and they’re beefing up coverage in new ways such as 360-degree and 180-degree live video experiences through an NBC VR app on a mobile device. They’ll be bolstering these with controllable views and experiences and data streams that show stats, scores, and standing along with dynamic audio. In total, fans can expect more than 7,000 hours of live streaming broadcasts from July 23 to August 8 across a wide swath of properties including NBC, CNBC, NBCSN, and the new Peacock network.

“We are going to deliver the most comprehensive — and accessible — coverage for any sports event in history,” Molly Solomon, executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production, said in a statement. “The depth and breadth of our broadcasts will be unprecedented, showcasing once-in-a-generation athletes and storylines that will capture the incredible uniqueness of these games and our times.”

For athletes, VR has become a huge asset. In preparation for the South Korean games, Fast Company reported that skiers used VR headsets to demo new downhill courses in a bid to get a head-start on the competition and get a feel for the look and feel of a place they hadn’t visited before.

GPS Tracking

With much of the attendance at the Tokyo Olympics being restricted, athletes and media will be using their mobile devices to track their locations for contact tracing with a special app. The app will be able to alert them if they have deviated from their activity plans which must be submitted before they arrive in Japan. Development of this app has cost more than $35 million and is part of safety protocols that will keep the games going forward.

Are You A Game Changer?

When the focus is on something as big as the Olympics, we all get to watch many different sports being impacted by the best athletes in the world. We also get to see how four years of sports tech have caught up to each of these disciplines. At home, the fans also get to participate in the evolution of the game with many more options being presented to tune in, from live broadcasts to interacting with sports reporters and athletes on social media channels like Instagram and Twitch.

If you’re reading this and working on some idea that you think can change the future of sports, we’d love to learn more. There’s a solid chance that it would be the perfect fit for our upcoming SportsTech Accelerator. Apply right now with your idea!


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