A Sporting Chance

Matthew Valentine surfs through the latest book on design in sport and is pleased to find that soon you won’t even have to leave your chair to be a winner.

The wonderful thing about a lot of modern sports is that you can participate in them sitting down. Or even, in the case of the insane-looking street luge, lying down.

That doesn’t mean these sports don’t get the adrenaline pumping, but spectators can be comforted by the fact that they may be physically capable of taking part without resorting to drastic measures like gymnasiums.

Street luge is a clear example of design benefiting sport. Design could almost be said to have created street luge – a hybrid of the traditional luge, a winter sport where grown men and women slide down toboggan tracks on a dinner tray, and skateboarding. “Skateboarders have always lain down on their boards, and the advent of a new sport was but a hill away,” writes Steven Skov Holt in a new collection of writing, Design for Sport.

Street luge boards are now so complicated they look like miniature operating tables. But they also have to pass muster in the design- and fashion-conscious world of skateboarders.

Design for Sport looks at some of the objects used in modern sports through the eyes of designers such as Holt, of frogdesign in California, journalists and competitors. One contributor, Diane Nyad, swam nonstop from the Bahamas to Florida.

The influence of TV has been behind many of the changes in sporting design. Simple but effective touches such as brightly coloured baseballs, more visible to viewers, and sophisticated marketing of trainers are examples of widely accepted changes.

Sporting clothing gets a mention too. Nyad and sportswriter Candace Lyle Hogan make the point that technology in shoes, bras, gloves and shorts has empowered women to compete with men, and to demand equal choices of goods and products.

But it is the hint of future sports which most appeals to haters of traditional ones. Most of them seem to involve being linked to computers. Taken to the ultimate extreme this would allow athletes to compete at international level without even stubbing out their cigarettes, let alone standing up. What a wonderful idea…

Design for Sport is published by Thames and Hudson on 15 June. Price 12.95.

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