January 16, 2008 / 12:11 AM / 10 years ago

Three dimensional images become significant tool

<p>Oscar Pistorius of South Africa runs in the men's 400 metres during the British Grand Prix athletics meet at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield, northern England in this file photo from July 15, 2007.Eddie Keogh</p>

LONDON (Reuters) - Three-dimensional images, which helped to show that double amputee Oscar Pistorius receives considerable advantages from carbon fiber blade attachments, have become a significant tool in the drive to improve athletic performances.

The South African runner, who had both legs amputated below the knee as a child, failed on Monday in his bid to compete at August's Beijing Olympics and has now been banned from competing against able-bodied athletes.

Scientists at the German Sport University in Cologne used a three-dimensional scanner and high-speed cameras to build up images to allow them to compare Pistorius with five able-bodied athletes.

The science of biomechanics -- the study of the mechanics of animate structures -- is already being applied to tennis.

David Fewtrell is a senior lecturer in sport biomechanics at England's University of Central Lancashire, one of the experts who add the latest biomechanical research to the nutritional and conditioning advances which make today's athletes stronger and faster.

Fewtrell helped to construct an imaginary bionic tennis player during the ATP Masters Cup in Shanghai last year, combining elements such as world number one Roger Federer's hand-eye coordination, number two Rafael Nadal's determination and aggression and Andy Roddick's serve.

"Tennis is one of the most dynamic sports on earth," Fewtrell said in a statement. "The top players use every part of their minds as well as their bodies and they are fitter, faster and stronger now than ever before.

"Today's players are in a league of their own compared to the likes of Fred Perry in the 1930s so, with sports science leading the way, it is very possible that a player such as this will be around in the next 50 years."

TOP SPIN

In a telephone interview, Fewtrell said three-dimensional images were being used to analyze players' techniques.

"We can see how much top spin and how many rotations there are per second through high-speed footage and wider footage," he said.

"I think top spin has become more and more important, the ball drops at a sharper angle. I think it is a weapon that more and more modern players are using."

<p>Oscar Pistorius of South Africa runs in the men's 400 metres during the British Grand Prix athletics meet at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield, northern England in this file photo from July 15, 2007.Eddie Keogh</p>

Fewtrell said research had revealed that many players were using an exaggerated forearm action to impart top spin when in fact the ball had already left their racket.

"This was not detectable a few years ago," he said. "What we are seeing is that most of the forearm is applied after the ball has got the rotation."

John Jerome's classic "The Sweet Spot in Time," first published in 1980, details the application of biomechanics to sport.

"The goal in the record-keeping sports such as track and field is to go over the edge of what is possible; to venture into unexplored territory, out there beyond the current realm of human experience, where no one has gone before," Jerome wrote.

<p>South Africa's Oscar Pistorius reacts at the end of the men's 400 metres during the Golden Gala IAAF Golden League at the Olympic stadium in Rome, July 13, 2007. Three-dimensional images, which helped to show that double amputee Pistorius receives considerable advantages from carbon fiber blade attachments, have become a significant tool in the drive to improve athletic performances.Alessandro Bianchi</p>

"One way of ensuring that the athlete can approach those edges most consistently and most fruitfully is by the proper management of the body."

HEIGHT ADVANTAGE

For Jerome, the "sweet spot" is the point in time where an athlete performs a given action perfectly because each of the individual physical acts leading up to the run, jump or stroke has been of maximum effectiveness.

Applying these principles to tennis, Fewtrell said height and long arms were a clear advantage in serving.

"The taller the player, the better the chance of hitting the ball high which increases the velocity," he said. "The strength comes through the knee bend and body rotation.

"If you are not tall, you have to develop leg strength. Racket speed translates into ball speed."

Fewtrell said of modern-day players five-times Wimbledon champion Federer had most of the attributes of a complete player.

"Federer is the player who can tick the most boxes for the ultimate player," he said.

Editing by Clare Fallon

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