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Virtual Reality at the Olympics

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by Beth Divine 20 Mar 2018

As an example of just how widespread and accepted virtual reality is and has become part of our daily lives can be found at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Not only can viewers from all over the world watch snow sports from speed skating to skiing to curling at almost any time of the day or night, but the US broadcaster NBC Olympic is also showing up to fifty hours of live virtual reality footage.

The truly exciting thing about viewing virtual reality video is a matter of perspective – literal perspective! With virtual reality you can position yourself anywhere that a camera can be fitted. This means that races can be viewed from the point of view of the skis or bobsleigh, from the side of the slope – positions that would be far too dangerous or impossible to watch from in real life.

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But cameras can be placed in all sorts of exciting places – like in the wicket of a cricket game, for example, what’s so great about that, why does virtual reality have an added edge? Because the view is not a fixed and static one, that’s why! With virtual reality, the cameras tend to be very wide-angled lenses which take in more than can be seen on a small, fixed proportion screen. So when you are positioned, for example, on the nose of a bobsleigh, enjoying an up close and personal view of the run, you can, with your virtual reality headset on, turn yourself all the way around and see the competitor, even looking over their shoulder at the competition bearing down on them (well, not on a bobsleigh run where they go one at a time – otherwise the sport would be very different and have a very high mortality rate, but you take my point, I hope!). In this way, you get to experience the whole sporting arena to your own satisfaction instead of having to watch what the program director thinks will be the best shots.

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If you know, for example, that someone famous – or even just someone you know! – was in the crowd for a particular event, you can spend the entire race just looking for their face in the crowd, pausing when you spot them to admire your hero before returning to complete the race!

A more serious reason to use virtual reality in high-quality, fast-action sporting events is as a training tool. What better way to improve your own stance, style or athletic prowess than by watching the experts in the heat and height of competition, completely focused on the task at hand, and not worrying about their receptive audience? Teaching or coaching athletes off the field of play is very different to emotions and determination during an actual competition – and seeing the driving force that spurs winners to that gold medal could inspire younger competitors to work harder to achieve their goals.

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