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September 13, 2015

For better or worse, technology has changed sports

Technology in sports has evolved so fast in the past decade that it is difficult to keep up with the changes on a day-to-day basis. It is amazing what can be analyzed and measured at some of the speeds of people and equipment and shown to viewers on television.

In golf, we can see the speed of the club head and the speed of the ball as it leaves the club head. There is a visible line following the path of the ball for some of us who cannot keep track of the ball a few hundred yards down the fairway. The announcers will tell us that the putt the player has to make is down to so many feet and inches away from the cup.

In tennis, we get to see how fast the ball moves in a serve; and on challenges, there is another line that shows the exact spot the ball landed, either on or outside the line. If that is not enough, the technology can record how many yards each player runs in each serve. It is down to where “Joe” ran 85.6 yards in the series.

In baseball, there is the ability to show if a pitch is a strike or ball with the location of the strike zone. The speed of the pitch is a given with the technology; and even the speed of the bat swing is measured. That line of trajectory for a home run not only lets us see the flight of the ball, but can also tell us how far it would have gone if some fan in the bleachers had not caught it.

One of the oldest forms of technology is the stop action of a play, so that it can be analyzed in very slow, or even stop action, movement. It definitely puts more pressure on the officials working the games.

I am amazed that football still uses a link of chains held by two people on the sidelines to determine whether the play covered 10 yards. At times, it is almost a guess if the ball crossed the line.

I remember being the linesman during a game on a muddy field after a heavy rain, and the lines were washed away. Taking the chains out to measure the first down was good if I could run a straight line, and hope that where I put the chain down was where the line was before the rain.

Runners today have a great deal of information at their disposal to measure their run and to record it for future reference. A watch of some form is usually attached to the wrist; and it lets them know the time of the run, the distance covered, the average pace, their heart rate, the elevation of the run at its highest point, the number of steps they took during the run and how many calories burned.

Some instruments even have a built-in GPS system, so that if they get lost, they can look up where they are and find their way back home.

What all of this technology takes away is the spirit or fun of running. I have run with various partners, and still recall how much some runners depend on knowing the speed and time of a run.

One day on a run on a dirt road, my partner stepped on a rock and twisted his ankle. I know his watch was stopped before he yelled “Ouch” and fell to the ground. That takes some fast reaction; but once that ankle was sprained, his run was over; and it wouldn’t count for the time he ran.

Another friend was running when he noticed a parked car that was starting to roll into a busy intersection. Gallantly he jumped into the car and stopped it before it reached the street and prevented an accident.

What makes this notable is that, before he opened the car door and stopped the car, he stopped his watch. His explanation for this quick stopping of his watch was that sitting in the car as he stopped it should not count as part of his running time or distance.

I was almost as bad during a run, and would always record my time; and I knew how far I ran and the average pace. I realized that this compulsion was taking the fun out of my running. I had to take my watch off and leave it at home to break that habit.

But... not before I took a quick glance at the clock on the wall to see what time it was.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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