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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Olympics are designed to showcase the frontiers of human athletic achievement, but technology has always played a role in helping athletes push the limits.

Why it matters: With some data suggesting that pure human athletic ability in many Olympic events may be plateauing, technology will become even more important to helping the best become better.

What's happening: Records are meant to be broken, and at the Tokyo Olympics, they've been falling in droves — especially on the track and in cycling.

  • In the 400-meter men's hurdle, Rai Benjamin of the U.S. beat the world record — and still finished second when Karsten Warholm of Norway went even faster.
  • In the men's team pursuit track cycling event, Denmark set an Olympic record in the qualifying heats only to lose in the finals when the Italian team blazed past the world record.

Between the lines: The events where world records fell most frequently at Tokyo tended to be those where new equipment or even better surfaces could play a bigger role.

  • Track stars like Warholm have benefited from using "super spikes" designed for sprint events, while the spongy track at Tokyo is "the most technologically advanced athletic track in the world," according to the company that designed it.
  • Even in an event as fundamental as archery, South Korean Olympians set multiple world records thanks in part to better bow and arrows made with the support of Hyundai.

The other side: World records in throwing and jumping field events — where technology plays less of a role — have been much harder to beat, lasting for an average of more than 23 years.

  • But there's a technological side to this as well, albeit a dark one — many of the existing records were set between the 1970s and 1990s, when doping of athletes went largely unpoliced.

Go deeper

Sep 28, 2021 - Sports

Simone Biles: I should have quit way before the Tokyo Olympics

Team USA's Simone Biles with her Olympic bronze medal during the women's balance beam final medal ceremony at the Tokyo Games in Japan. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Simone Biles said she "should have quit way before" the Tokyo Olympic Games, per an interview with New York Magazine published Monday.

The big picture: The 24-year-old U.S. gymnastics great opened up to the magazine about the expectations on her in the leadup to the Tokyo Games and the impact of the abuse by former Olympic Team USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who's now serving a 40– to 175-year prison term for sexually abusing young athletes.

23 mins ago - World

Saudi dissident claims MBS said he could get "poison ring" to kill king

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending the Saudi Green Initiative Forum, via video link, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Photo: Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A former senior Saudi intelligence official who worked with the U.S. on counterterrorism alleged to "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed in 2014 killing the kingdom's then-monarch.

Why it matters: The allegation by the exiled Saad al-Jabri, whom Saudi authorities describe as "a discredited former government official," that the crown prince, known as "MBS," claimed he could obtain a "ring from Russia" to carry out the attack, is one of several serious allegations he made on the CBS show.

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest — triggering widespread power outages and flooding.

Why it matters: The strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood.

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