A Brief History of Sport

A Brief History of Sport


Competition is part of
what makes us human. We strive to be better,
stronger, faster. We set rules, invent sports,
arrange contests, and we yearn to win. Science and technology are tools
we use to improve our performance. But while carbon fibre tennis
rackets and aerodynamic bicycles might represent the
cutting edge today, sports and technology have been linked
since the very earliest Olympic games more than
2,000 years ago. To ensure fairness, they would
draw a line in the dirt. But to improve things and ensure
continuity, year on year, they cut two grooves
in a marble sill. You would stand on the sill
and put your toes in the groove before you started. It’s one of the earliest
examples of sports technology, and something you can
still see today at Olympia in Greece. Fast forward through history,
and we crash into the Industrial Revolution. And for the first time, the
average worker had a little bit of disposable income. But there were huge
numbers of them. And thanks to the new labour
laws, they also had the Saturday afternoon off. So what to do with that time? And the answer lies here in
Sheffield’s Kelham Island Industrial Museum and on the
fantastic shelves over there. So 19th century Sheffield was
a huge manufacturer of cutlery, of hand tools,
and of cannon shells. So at lunch time on a Saturday
afternoon, the whistle would go, and the workers would clock
out using the clocking machines over there. They would then go down the pub
for a couple of hours and then pass through those
turnstiles there into the football matches. And that’s why traditionally
football starts at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. The story is all there
on these shelves. [TRAIN WHISTLE] The concentration of people,
existence of leisure time, and availability of disposable
income were all required for the development of team
sports like football. And that situation arose through
the technology of the Industrial Revolution. The steam engine was a key
development that powered mass production. So when in 1827, Edward Budding
invented the lawn mower, steam power churned them
out by the thousands, so that a neat lawn was no longer
the preserve of the rich. And in 1843, Thomas Hancock
patented the vulcanization of rubber, so changing the rubber
ball from some obscure ancient Mesoamerican invention to a
mass produced play thing. So with flat lawns and a bouncy
rubber ball, lawn tennis was not far behind. When we consider the legacy of
the Industrial Revolution, we might imagine scenes
like this. But these mills and factories
drove not just technological change, but also changes
to society. And sports is an intimate
part of that. The Bessemer converter is a
symbol of large-scale steel manufacture. Much of that steel went into
Britain’s railways, and that changed the landscape forever. Suddenly, huge numbers
of people could travel long distances. And for sport, that
was a revelation. Football teams could travel to
away games, and fans could follow them. And whether there were crowds,
there is money. So in little more than
a generation. sports had gone from something
that few could afford to big business. Technology has driven sports
and, in turn, sports has driven technology. We built these huge cathedrals
to sports. And we filled them with
technologies to help improve our athletes’ performance. Timing is no longer done
mechanically, but we use fully-automated timing
systems. Telephoto lenses have
revolutionised the way the media covers our sport, as have
the high-speed digital cameras that have just
come on the market. Modern materials have profoundly
changed the nature of some of our sports. And now science is so important
to sports that my title is Professor of Sports
Engineering, something that couldn’t have happened a
mere two decades ago. These films are about the
next part of the story. They’re about how we use our
scientific understanding of sports to improve our athletes
and how it’s changed the nature of some of
those sports. We go to see how technology can
help a coach train their athletes more effectively– Oh, wow, I love that. –how we’re developing ways to
measure and understand a sport more deeply, but without
disturbing performance, and how we can model all the
elements of a sport to test the limits of the game and
safeguards its future. Ultimately, though, it’s about
how we keep that balance between progress
and tradition. Is it cheating? [STARTING GUN]

6 Replies to “A Brief History of Sport”

  1. That balance is an interesting question. Is using artificial limbs just that progress, or is it cheating? Only time will tell I guess.

  2. Looking forward to watching the entire series when i'll have the time. Nice "credits table" at the end, never seen that before and i think it's a cool idea.

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