I love watching the Olympics. The last time I watched the summer Olympics, my soon to be fiance and I sat in a tiny bar in Paris, watching synchronized divers projected on a pull-down screen. We were on our way to see his family in Southern France, and had arrived in Paris early to spend a few days exploring the city. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Europe during a world-wide sporting event, but it’s awesome, for lack of better words. Europeans are passionate about their sports. And it’s not just for the powerhouses like Germany, Spain, and France–places like Paris have so many nationalities represented within the city’s population that you can feel OK cheering for just about anyone, from Aruba to the Somali Republic.

As we watched the athletes diving, we couldn’t stop commenting on their training routines. “How long do you think they practice for this?” (30 seconds later) “How do they DO that? They are literally spinning in air at the same exact time.” True, the Olympics are about cheering for your country, your “team”, but overall, the Games are one big homage to the feats of the human body, to the extreme limits of training and the pursuit of perfect performance. And with the advancement of high-resolution televisions, we see more and more of just how amazing these athlete’s bodies really are.

It makes me curious about the kind of research that goes into training a world-class athlete.

Progression in medicine and medical technology tells us a lot about why some people perform better than others–and helps those others close the gap. Supercold chambers, or ‘cryosaunas’ for example, are supposedly helping top-notch athletic muscles recover from inflammation or exertion. It’s no surprise that Niketown has one of these cryotherapy programs, along with a multi-million dollar Sports Research Lab equipped with 20 scientists, a biomechanics lab, a sweating thermal mannequin, and an “environmental chamber” for testing performance gear in different environments. Gatorade recently revamped and put more money than ever into research, opening the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, which is committed to helping athletes optimize their health and performance.

We know more about the athletic heart than we ever have before; tissue Doppler allows us to examine how quickly a piece of heart muscle shortens and lengthens, differentiating a healthy (typically larger) athletic heart from one predisposed to hypertrophy and the risk of sudden failure. And when athletes do get hurt, they are healing faster than ever, thanks to advances in Physical Therapy, better equipment, and increases in minor surgeries that take care of nagging pains and less severe injuries. It does seem like we should be getting a little faster, a little stronger–every year. (NBC, the TV hosts for the Olympics, has a pretty interesting video series on the Science of Olympics. Check out Jamaican runner Usain Bolt’s Biomechanics here.)

What’s your take on technology and research surrounding athletic performance? What will you be looking for while watching the 2012 Summer Olympics?