51 Sprints is a very interesting interactive documentary website. It is made up of two parts. The first part is a five part documentary. The documentary looks at the history of the Olympic games, with a focus on the 100m sprint as the simplest, most distilled example of an Olympic race. It takes five lenses through which to look at the games: nation, sex, class, race, and body. The narrator explores the ways in which these factors have contributed to the athlete’s mythical status, contemplating how the differences in these factors may translate to an advantage or disadvantage for the runners.
The second part of the website is designed to be interacted with after viewing the documentary. “The Equaliser” is a data driven tool that allows you to select any 100m sprint starting from the 1896 Athens Olympics, and ending with the latest 2016 games in Rio. A set of toggles based on nation, sex, class, race, and body can be manipulated to make an attempt at “equalising” the race. For example, men tend to be faster than women, giving their sex an advantage. The “sex” toggle flattens out this factor and takes its influence to an average number, so most female runners with become faster, and male runners with become slower. It’s a little confusing to explain, but a whole lot of fun for play with. You can even create your custom run. The researches behind the project recognise the limitation and simplification of this approach, but also find the political factors it reveals illuminating to the project.
51 Sprints was designed by artist Yuri Veerman and Random Studio and devised by Klaas Kuitenbrouwer of Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. You can find the details of the method the team used for data analysis, along with more information about the project, and related information here.