Have athletes peaked?

Some scientists and researchers who've studied the history of athletic achievement and biomechanics say yes. In today's environment, it's not surprising that the article wonders if this will lead to a rise in human enhancements, technological or chemical, legal or illegal.

The Olympics may seem particularly vulnerable to waning interest if records stop being broken given the omnipresent WR bogeys posted prominently next to on-screen timers, but it may not be the end of the world. If we think of sports as primarily an entertainment product, with user interest as the end goal, some strategies suggest themselves.

1. Sports that pit athletes against each other on the same course at the same time are inherently more interesting than those where athletes are by themselves. Short track speed skating is more interesting to me than long-distance speed skating because of this. Snowboard cross and it's new cousin ski cross are a lot of fun to watch for the same reason.

2. Almost any world-class level athlete is impressive, but it's not always easy to appreciate their talent on TV, so I suggest a revolution in helping people appreciate professional athleticism. The NIke commercial "The Michael Vick Experience" was obviously fictional (insert your animal brutality joke here), but the principle is sound. Why don't we have more camera angles to watch sports with as in videogames? Why can't you put a small lightweight camera on Drew Brees' helmet (and every other player's helmet) so you can see what it's like to play quarterback in the NFL? Why can't we broadcast baseball in 3-D with a special catcher helmet cam to help us appreciate what it's like to try and hit a Justin Verlander fastball? Why not more microphones at field level so we can get an enhanced audio experience during live broadcasts instead of being forced to listen to an often uninspiring play-by-play announcer? Hockey is so much more exciting to see live than on TV, but what if you could toggle into any player's helmet and hear 5.1 surround audio of what he's experiencing? What if, when you were at the gym, you could watch cycling on a TV but also dial in the pro's wattage and speed output to see if you could keep up? What if you could sprint on the treadmill as fast as you could go and see an avatar of your body on screen next to Usain Bolt, just to get a sense for how fast he really is? The Olympics showcased innovations like the dive cam at the last Summer Olympics, and they have cameras that move along side sprinters. I'm confident they can continue to innovate on this axis.

3. More human interest context. Some scoff at the edited puff pieces introducing athlete life stories during the Olympics, but a personal connection always helps to give you more rooting interests. What if more of these aired, not just during the Olympics, but during regular sporting events? It doesn't even have to be a tearjerker of a story. Would knowing what NYC night club Derek Jeter was out at the night before, and with whom, enhance your appreciation of his performance in that day's game? I'm being somewhat facetious, but the bland canned sports interview responses are doing no one any favors. I'll cap this point by saying that Tiger Woods just got a whole lot more interesting as a person given the events of the past few months, and that first appearance of his back on the golf course is going to do great ratings (if his exploits continued, the lift might not last, but for now it's big news). Back story and character development isn't any less effective in the sports world.

4. I wouldn't be surprised to see alternative sports leagues spawned that compete with established leagues like MLB, NBA, and the NFL by allowing any and all performance-enhancing drugs. In addition, excessive endzone celebrations, Twittering during games, taunting, all that would be fair game. Much like the UFC overtook boxing by going where boxing wasn't, it's more fruitful to compete with the big monopoly sports in the US by going where they won't.

I confess to having no solutions for enhancing the appeal of curling, though. Maybe release a Good Will Hunting variant in which Matt Damon is still that janitor at MIT, but it's his amazing floor sweeping skills that lead to him being discovered and becoming a world class curler? Or introduce drinking in some way. That's all I've got.