A torch of class from athletic play that makes us ponder Olympic dream

LeanerFasterStronger Ben Addis & Morven Macbeth
LeanerFasterStronger Ben Addis & Morven Macbeth
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WITH the days flying past until the London 2012 opening ceremony, the Crucible Studio’s smart new Olympics-inspired play poses some enticing issues.

For one, LeanerFasterStronger looks at the future of sport – we think we’re quick now, but that’s likely to seem slow compared with what is to come according to expert Dr David James.

“Nothing else does what the Olympics does,” says the sports scientist from the Centre For Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University.

“There’s a lot of tribalism going on, different nations, but it goes beyond that, wondering what our capacity is as humans. What is achievable?

“One strand of research in our department is figuring out how human performance has changed over time and where might things go.

“We’re not done yet. We always think we have arrived. In 50 years people will look back and think we were primitive. The modern Olympics have run for just more than 100 years, the ancient Olympics ran for 300 years. We’re only just starting – what will the Olympics look like in 200 years?

“As humans we’re going to be doing different things. One of the biggest changes in athletics is recent years has been the influx of east African runners. The running is 10 per cent faster. That’s huge and new populations are coming on board. There are probably others out there who still haven’t had that global stage to compete on. And there’s very real possibility all sorts of technologies could change the game as well, gene doping, advances in prosthetics, bio-mechanics...”

Much of that is aired in Kaite O’Reilly’s fast-paced, fact-packed play. It centres on a sports conference discussion and switches neatly between the experts and the kind of athletes they are discussing with their dreams and familial and lifestyle sacrifices.

Imagine surrendering almost everything for 10 seconds that may or may not change the world, all under the pressure of billions of pairs of eyes.

“The intention is it will have a legacy,” Chol Theatre’s Susan Burns says of the play she co-produced. “Being 2012 and the Olympic year it has a certain resonance now, but hopefully the issues will have longevity beyond that.

“We didn’t really know what it was going to be, but Kaite has made it more personal through stories. It’s certainly not an animated lecture. “

The last of 12 performances happens on Saturday, but it is hoped LeanerFasterStronger will travel.

“From a university perspective we were really passionate about public engagement, trying to create debate and dialogue around science and have people appreciate it is part of their world and not some dull issue that happens in labs,” says David.

“Sport is the context but there are broader issues. I believe one of the big issues to face us as humanity is this topic of human enhancement and we’re going to see it first in sport. Athletes since the beginning have always used the best technology available.

“As for why the Olympics are important...it is a unique thing where the world is kind of together for one event, a celebration of humanity. But the play digs into the darker underbelly of sport.”