After a year of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 32nd Olympic Games officially kicked off in Tokyo in July 2021. The management of the Games has been altered significantly with a progressive reliance on technology to create a safe environment for those who are competing. Innovations in biotechnology are also at the forefront of this year’s Olympics.

The Use of Biotechnology in Sports Training

The Olympic Games bring together the best athletes from all around the world to compete against each other. A small mistake or a second of delay could mean losing a chance at standing on the podium to receive an Olympic medal. To maximize their chances of winning, athletes are utilising cutting edge biotechnology to train for their sport.

The USA Cycling Team has been training with smart glasses that monitor and display the biometric data of the cyclists, such as their power, speed, and heart rate. This is a step up from older methods that require a longer processing time to analyse biometric data and assess performance. Providing cyclists access to real-time data allows them to determine right then and there what is needed to improve the ride. It will also help cyclists focus on their performance as they do not need to take their eyes off the road to look at another screen. Another example of how biotechnology is used in sports is the incorporation of anti-gravity treadmills in the training routine of many sports professionals. These treadmills are designed to reduce the amount of strain to the joints and muscles, and to recover effectively with less pain. Athletes can thus train for longer periods of time and rehabilitate with less pain or risk of injury.

Apart from a change in training methods, sports apparel can also affect an athlete’s performance. There is increasing attention on how to boost performance through what athletes wear. Companies research heavily on biomechanics to design sports apparel that will maximize athletic performances. For example, the USA Swimming Team is wearing technologically advanced swimsuits at the Tokyo Olympics that will give the swimmers a wider range of motion and reduce drag in water. Another key focus across many sports is the issue of footwear. Many athletes choose specially designed footwear to enhance their performance, such as better foot support or increased stiffness of the shoe, depending on the needs of the sport. These are just several examples of how the innovative use of biotechnology has boosted athletic performance.

The Use of Biotechnology in Virtual Spectatorship

Officials had announced that the Tokyo Olympic Games would proceed without spectators in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus. This marks the first time in history that spectators are excluded from the Games. Without the presence of a live audience, the Olympic organizers scrambled to come up with new ways to engage virtual spectatorship beyond the traditional TV broadcasts. With the rise of streaming TV, the Olympics have turned towards the accessibility and convenience of streaming services to draw in a global audience. The Games have also been equipped with new technological solutions to provide an immersive viewing experience.

Viewing competitive sports live can be stressful as you can feel the tension of the competition to a certain extent. The sport may look easier if you watch the Olympics virtually because you can see the whole set-up up close. You may not understand the difficulty of performing well at the sport, and feel how much stress the athletes are under to perform their best. In order to provide a more immersive experience, Archery was the first sport to display live biometric data in the Olympic broadcast this year. Viewers will see the real-time heart rates of competing archers on screen, and gain some insight into the internal state of the athletes. After all, it is easy to equate the intense look of concentration on their faces as being calm!

The athletics sprint events also incorporated new technology to create a more immersive viewing experience. With the use of artificial intelligence, viewers are provided with near real-time insights about each runner’s performance compared against one another. The broadcast will display a visualization of the sprinting speed of each athlete at specific points of the race along with other race statistics. This will allow viewers to understand at exactly which point the runners reach their peak speed and analyze the different phases of the race in more detail. The enhancement makes the broadcast more viewer-friendly to those unfamiliar to the sport as it is easier for people to understand the technical analyses by the commentators.

The Tokyo Olympics is an exciting time for athletes and spectators all around the world! We get to see how sports performances and virtual spectatorship have been increasingly supported by biotechnological solutions. It is a glimpse into the future of how technology will further change the way we do and view sports.