Conclusion. Body, Motor, Machine: The Future of Technology and Sport

From: Game Changer

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We love champions. We especially love sport champions. We love heroes. We especially love to make athletic success heroic. This love readily conflates heroism and athletic success. The heroic champions we love most are ­ those who have worked the hardest and sacrificed nearly every­ thing to achieve the highest heights of success. Winning a sporting competition always carries a level of status, and athletes can drive themselves to unhealthy and irrational lengths to win and be loved. The apocryphal legend of the Greek messenger Pheidippides’s nonstop run from the battlefields of Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. exemplifies the value in the reward and the associated heroic narrative.1 As the story goes, Pheidippides collapsed­ after exclaiming “nenikekamen,” or “we have won.” This compelling narrative also served the organizers of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. The Pheidippides legend supported making the marathon, as a death-­defying twenty-­six-­mile run, a centerpiece of the 1896 games. Pierre de Coubertin, the instigator of the modern Olympic Games, clearly understood the promotional value of this event. And his intuition was spot on, as the marathon has become one of the signature competitions of the Olympic Games. What makes the marathon so compelling is its history, the palpable physical strug­ gle, and the perceived purity of ­ running. This athletic purity has defined many of the most successful sporting competitions as they moved from recreational pastimes to professionalized events ­ after the turn of the twentieth ­ century. This transition can CONCLUSION Body, Motor, Machine The ­ Future of Technology and Sport CONCLUSION 206 be seen most poignantly in boxing. Boxing also helped turn sport into sports business. Celebrated boxer Jack Johnson is not only known for his athletic accomplishments in a racially adversarial world but also for the associated heroic narrative that came with being a championship-­ winning athlete.2 It was the watching and cheering for and against athletes ­ doing the seemingly impossible, and potentially placing a wager on it, that made­ these athletes and their per­ for­ mances exciting for fans and lucrative for the athletes and the vari­ ous event promoters. The packaging of ­ these sporting events laid the foundation for one strain of sporting consumption that hinges on marketing and selling ­ great ­ human athletic feats. It is the promotion of athletic ability as a consumable product that links Pheidippides and Jack Johnson to the con­ temporary multilevel athletic marketplace , where anyone can consume an event, a team, or a player. But in this current moment, is it still pos­ si­ ble to uphold the heroic athletic narratives represented by Pheidippides? The athlete and the athletic body ­will always be central to this form of sport consumption. ­ There are power­ ful social and cultural reasons why we speak of sporting competition in terms of ­ human dramas. Sport can be very dramatic; thus, it is no surprise that sporting events often are construed as a ­ battle between good and evil, right and wrong, democracy and communism, and so forth. Rooting for one’s “side” can make being a fan worthy of extreme and outlandish be­ hav­ ior. This support can also permit fans to ignore the transgressions of a favorite athlete or team, as well as bestowing one’s side with superhuman abilities. It is the idea that some athletes have “it” while ­ others do not that effectively works to marginalize the importance of the technoscientific infrastructure of sport. Though it is clear that an extremely select few athletes, such as Michael Jordan, Lionel Messi, or Wayne Gretzky, possess that rare combination of ge­ ne­ tic ability , motivation, and luck to dominate a sporting domain in a specific historical moment, the physiological differences between elite athletes are exceedingly small. But what if ­ great athletes succeed ­ because they more readily adapt and exploit the old, new, and emerging technoscience of their sport? For more than a ­ century, the dominant narratives around science and technology have been highly progressive. ­ These narratives are not without their critics, but overall the idea that the confluence of science and technology ­ will create a “better” technoscientifically driven world is very THE ­FUTURE OF TECHNOLOGY AND SPORT 207 strong. Historically, sport has been able to hold on to a humanized narrative and sublimate all ­ things technoscientific to the body. However, as the preceding chapters have shown, technoscience now plays a central role in the outcomes of sporting competitions, and to understand the impacts of technoscience on culturally rooted sporting narratives, the ­ human body, and its meaning for...