Haake has made a career out of applying scientific principles to the often hard-to-quantify medium of sports performance. As the director of the Center for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, Haake studies everything from the physics of tennis to the role technology has played in the history of sport. Haake recently penned a story for Physics World on this exact topic--the effect of rule change and technology on sporting performance over time. In it he describes why sporting performance has continued to improve through the years (better coaching and nutrition, population increases) as well as why we see step-changes in the data--peaks and valleys that are generally the result of some kind of external factor beyond athletic performance, like a new technology, a change in the rules, or even simply the weather. But this kind of analysis can also serve a more urgent purpose--to make sure we don’t miss any water-cooler-worthy moments in London over the next two weeks.
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The Olympics represent something very special in the culture of sport, but from a viewing perspective they are a logistical nightmare. Multiple events play out at the same time, forcing you to pick and choose between your favorite events. Where will the next dazzling, record-breaking performance take place? Will someone rob Usain Bolt of his 100-meter record? Will there be a Kerri Strug moment in the gym? There's no way to to tune into the Games with absolute certainty that you'll see something historic, but Steve Haake thinks you can increase your chances. Science can tell us where we’re most likely to see the closest competitions or record-breaking performances, and where we’re least likely to see anything exciting at all.
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