Tech Catch-22

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Technology is changing our world in exponential ways and that certainly includes the world of sports. In some instances, I'm honestly not sure where I stand on the wizardrous advances. It's not like we can revert back to wooden tennis racquets when Teflon and boron are the materials du jour. As they say, you can't put the genie back in the bottle.

Two sports are particular cases in point. If you've been following the Tour de France, you may know that the teams use pinpoint GPS systems that track all the riders in the race at any given second. Furthermore, they use sophisticated radios, the team coaches' in their pursuit vehicles and the riders carrying their end of the two-ways in their cycling jerseys. It wasn't so long ago that it was part of the fabric of the sport that you might not know which riders were in a breakaway at the front, how fast they were going, if they were gaining or losing on you. And conversely, the breakaway few wouldn't know whether other breakaways were happening from the peleton behind them or how quickly they were coming after them. It used to be an issue of instincts and experience and just plain heart. But today, with these GPS and two-way radios, every single rider knows within 30 seconds of a breakaway or a fallback precisely who is where. Computers then allow the team coaches to let you know if, for instance, you would have to ride at precisely 31.8 mph for the next 4.9 miles to catch the leaders.

Personally, I much preferred it when a rider used to decide to put his head down and throw his guts into a climb, not knowing if the guys ahead were folding or still riding strong. I still admire the outrageous ground these guys can cover day by day for three weeks, but some of the nobility of individual heart is now missing for me.

The high-tech issue is hitting swimming hard at the moment. It was 2000 that the first all-body skin suits made their splash. There was controversy then and a new evolution of those suits just over the last couple of weeks is fueling that controversy further. Mark Schubert, U.S. National team coach, takes such a strong stand against the suits that he feels all world records broken in these suits should be marked with an asterisk and then erased once formal decisions are made to ban the suits. In a sport where world records were mighty hard to come by, almost every standing world record at every distance, in every stroke, has been broken since swimmers started to glide more hydrodynamically in these suits. The first generation of fabrics and construction were all about constricting body tissue to reduce drag. But this next generation has injected air pockets into the seams, making the athlete more buoyant and there's the problem. One obvious factor that distinguishes a gold medal from a silver is a swimmer's stroke ability and natural physique to rise higher in the water. If an artificial substance lifts you higher, is that fair?

I wish I could be around a hundred years from now. Ironically, as technology grows by leaps and bounds in all areas of human life, in sports there's going to have to be a mandate to curtail tech advancement. Already we make race cars go slower and golf balls fly shorter than we know is possible with more powerful motors and different designs of clubs. What if one day we could just maneuver Tour de France cyclists up the Alps with remote devices and swimmers could wear gigantic whale-like flippers? We're in an interesting time and cycling and swimming are at the forefront of both exciting tech discovery as well as new high-tech dilemma.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

Banner image: Controversial Jaked 01 polyurethane swimsuit. Photo: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images



Diana Nyad