Technology is an integral part of sport and always at the heart of controversy — is a double diffuser on a Formula 1 car legal? Does a ‘sharkskin’ swimsuit provide too little resistance? Do Oscar Pistorius’ blades give him an unfair advantage over legged athletes? This exhibition looks at what goes into designing winning machines and sporting equipment.
This is not a large exhibition, but it is densely packed with fascinating information, such as track bicycles changing the type of paint they use to save an all important 95 grams.
The equipment ranges from bobsleds to last year’s Williams F1 car and the hybrid Audi R18 that won the Le Mans 24 hour. Although GB does have a strong cycling heritage, we’re not sure it justifies the overwhelming proportion of this exhibition dedicated to cycling and the different types of bikes used in competition.
One highlight is the long and triple jump records painted on the floor, which make visitors realise that, even without technology, the human body is capable of remarkable feats.
There’s also a small section on safety that understandably focusses on the riskier sports including ice hockey and Formula 1. But it might have been better if it also told the stories of why there have been so many necessary safety improvements in these sports and the accidents that used to happen.
The final room is all about sporting controversies. Once again, the focus is on cycling and which bikes are legal. There are mentions of other sports, such as Ilie Nastase’s use of ‘spaghetti stringing’ in tennis, but current controversies like goal line technology in football are lacking. Pistorius’ blades do feature but a look at the arguments for and against their use, when competing with able-bodied athletes, would have been a good addition.*
This is an informative and interesting exhibition but a more rounded focus on all sports with a more newsy agenda would have been welcome.
Designed to Win is on at the Design Museum, 28 Shad Thames, SE1 2YD until 18 November. Tickets are £8 for adults, concessions available.
* Correction: The original article implied that Pistorius’ prostheses weren’t featured in this exhibition. This has been corrected to note that they are present but we would have preferred it if they were in the sporting controversies section.