In the last few years Para sports have made a great use of various assistive technologies, constructing customized equipment for individual athletes and disciplines. And they didn’t leave anyone behind. Finally, all disabled professional sportspeople could be supported by a variety of innovative solutions, making their performance both more enjoyable and effective. This barrier-breaking opportunity let some of the best athletes in the world take part in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. And what’s the most advanced tech behind their astonishing success?
United by Emotion
Differently abled athletes “united by emotion”, as The Games motto states, and unified by putting their disabilities aside, gave their life performances, breaking world records and doing their best to achieve the heights of their skills. It was a great step for furthering inclusion and diversity all over the world and making the edge-cutting tech a friendly sports assistant.
No human is limited
The above words being a quote from the Kenian Marathon king, Eliud Kipchoge, comprise an apt slogan for the Tokyo Paralympics being a true celebration of human endeavour. Now, you’re probably curious about some actual examples. So, here they are!
Amputee athletes use prosthetics or running blades that effectively replace their calves and ankles. The equipment is J-shaped and made of carbon fibre — a material that’s strong, light, springy and compact at the same time. It’s a huge support while a person steps forward, whether it’s a sprint, long jump or a vertical lift.
Lesser mobility in the lower body part is not an obstacle for professional basketball players. They use customized wheelchairs with “bucket seats” and higher backrests that provide better stability. The chairs are adjusted to athletes’ abilities and have different kinds of seats to support all of the players, including the more mobile ones able to lean back further to take their shots. The wheelchairs are quite high, have a bigger push rim and bent 20 degrees to the ground for easier usage.
Cycling track racing bikes
Para cyclists use standard bikes that undergo varied modifications to make them more functional yet still able to accelerate up to 60 km/h. If athletes have an arm impairment, handlebars are modified according to their individual mobility. Those with leg amputations can fix their prosthesis to the pedal.
This year was a debut for Para badminton at the olympic games and it came in full swing. Athletes used wheelchairs with backrests and extra caster wheels at the rear for higher mobility, so they were able to twist or lean backwards without taking a tumble. The equipment was convenient enough to let them deliver different kinds of pulls and pushes and work on satisfying techniques for stopping and recovering.
Signalling caps for swimmers
Until recently, vision impaired swimmers had their coaches or assistants come up with a sort of home-made “tapping device” — usually a long stick with an attached soft ball. It was used to tap swimmers on a head, shoulder or back when they needed to turn. During this year’s Olympics, some of the nations eliminated the role of a “tapper” and applied a new technology developed by Samsung. It consisted of a swimming cap connected with a smartphone, allowing coaches to send vibration alerts directly to the cap whenever necessary.
Racing wheelchairs and gloves
Racing wheelchairs are more commonly made up from carbon fibre which makes them lighter and more stable. They can be adjusted to athletes’ bodies and disabilities to suit them perfectly and create convenient support during competitions. Their wheels have a 10–15 degree camber for lateral stability during speeding up. Racers are also equipped with special gloves created in 3D printing technology. They provide additional pedal power while pushing the chairs.
Archery release brace
An archer who isn’t abled enough can be supported by a release brace. It is strapped at his or her back and helps in releasing the arrow.
Wheelchairs for rugby players require greater stability, strength and maneuverability. That’s why they’re built of aluminium metal or titanium and have either a fifth or a sixth wheel, depending on the level of athlete’s impairment. The ones intended for offence have additional “wings” on the front wheel, and the defensive chairs are provided with a hook on the front in order to trap opponents.
Tech matters, but athletes matter more
Technology in sports is something that makes our hearts pound. And the issue gets even hotter when it’s related to the Paralympics. A more visible and direct connection between an athlete and a machine refers vividly to a cyber human straight from the sci-fi book — and it’s definitely exciting! On the other hand, technology is just a supportive gear used by people who devoted their lives to sport. What stands behind their jaw-dropping success is not only the used tech, but most of all their stamina and merit.