Certainly, there are many moving parts to our success in pushing the envelope of what is possible, how fast we can go, how far we can push, how much we can take to exceed our previous attempts. Fear and anxiety, and our capacity to overcome them, are key. Physicality, mental toughness, preparation, are all important ingredients that separate good from great. In addition to these, however, is technology and some say it is disrupting the integrity of competition. Some disagree, saying it is only driving us to greater heights, faster times, higher achievement.
Over time, technology has played a deeper and deeper role in the overall performance of what athletes are capable of. From the obvious gear-driven needs, wants and wishlists of the elite, trickle down conventions that change the game, literally, for the masses.
Consider any sport, from skiing to basketball, race car driving to swimming. Each and every sport is touched in some way by technology, even if not visible on the surface. Doping affects the metabolism of athletes, allowing them greater lung capacity or overall strength and endurance. Biological, chemical, and mechanical technologies are playing key roles in competition now, whether we like it or not. Have they always?
There are many examples to think about. Just in my own lifetime, the introduction of instant replay changed everything. When Speedo introduced Shark Suit technology, the swimming world was turned upside down, while records were being broken by larger-than-ever-margins. Likewise, the ski world has been revolutionized from long, stiff skis like the Volkl P9s of the 80’s to today’s parabolic designs that accommodate all-mountain competition, which means one pair does it all: bumps, steep and deep, or GS. Whatever you want. Radical. Radical? That’s not really radical anymore. This is radical.
While all of these advancements are cool, they are each and every one moving closer and closer towards the same question, I think:
when will it open the conversation for a complete and total permissive class of competition, one that allows for any and all-out enhancement, whatever the risk or cost?
Imagine a class of competition in every sport like open classes in auto racing where anything goes. What would that look like? The most radical and extreme would compete against each other, offering a true spectacle. With Olympic and pro athletes already pushing the limits of what conventional rules allow for, such a thing may not far away. Ethics could play a role but – ticket sales often trump them.
So imagine we are there now. What would it look like? I imagine a sort of International Race of Champions (where each driver races the exact same car), for every sport emerging where each competitor is offered the same enhancements and technology. Imagine each takes the same performance-optimizing drugs, suits up with the latest state-of-the-art gear, modifications, etc. Then, these humans compete in exactly the same vein as the original IROC drivers. Let them modify to the hilt and go for it. See who comes out on top in every sport imaginable. Some would argue it’s already happening but only behind the scenes. Who knows?
It was discontinued in 2006, but in each of the IROC races, each driver had the exact same car: same chassis, same engine, same modifications, same tires, everything. So, in the end, it came down to the drivers. A great driver never blames the car.