Hi-tech sports goods for Beijing Olympics

August 8th, 2008 - 2:46 pm ICT by IANS  

By Saurabh Yadav
New Delhi, Aug 8 (IANS) As the Beijing Olympics start Friday, sports goods companies around the world have readied cutting-edge technologies, ranging from improvements over existing ones to the almost exotic, specifically designed for the Olympics. An interesting example is US sports goods maker Nike’s new Precool vest that was designed in the company’s research labs, which found that athletes’ performance falls off drastically when core body temperature hits 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

The vest is designed to slow the rise of core body temperature before events in Beijing. It is filled with water and then frozen overnight. The athletes would wear it for about an hour just prior to competition.

Nike is also supplying the US basketball team’s jerseys, which employ a new moisture-and heat-venting technique called aerographics to promote airflow over the skin. Using a new process, Nike chemically ‘etches’ designs on the fabric. The resulting graphics, which have been created by artists (such as the liberty torch for US team), also act as vents for air and sweat.

Some of the most exotic technologies are in the field of footwear as proper shoes are extremely important for performance, especially in track events, and an advantage of even a hundredth of a second may translate into a medal.

German sports goods giant Adidas has designed a racing shoe called Lone Star for the US 400-metre Olympic hopeful Jeremy Wariner. The shoe’s carbon nanotube sole is 20 times stronger than steel and the spike pattern on it makes the wearer always lean towards the left. The reason - on a track oval, there are no right turns and therefore the shoes provide leftward propulsion.

Adidas’ adiStar range of rowing shoes has internal rowing plates under the forefoot that attach the shoes to the boat and help provide direct transfer of power from the oarsman to the boat itself.

Nike’s Flywire technology replaces all of a shoe’s heavy structural materials with support threads that resemble the steel cables on a suspension bridge. The Flywire-based Zoom Victory middle-distance spike shoe weighs just 93 grams.

Nike’s new bike shoe, the Dunk Gyrizo, has the same clipless carbon sole plate that Lance Armstrong used in his successive successful stints at the Tour de France.

The company has also designed boots for equestrian sports that do away with the wearer having to struggle to jam their feet down long, stiff leather riding boots by using an asymmetrical zipper to make entry easier.

The Nike Ippeas (Greek for rider) riding boots provide protection, support, traction, traditional aesthetic and horse control in a package that also reduces weight by eliminating the need for strap-on spurs.

During a taekwondo match, three of four judges must recognise a strike for a competitor to be awarded a point. For its TKV taekwondo boot, Nike tested 20 different kinds of synthetic leathers to find out the loudest.

“We did everything we could to get that nice smack,” Sean McDowell, Nike’s footwear design director, said in a press release. “That’s the loudest leather we could come up with.”

Drag is a big issue in sports such as swimming, cycling and even athletics and drag-reduction is an important area of sports technology research.

Nike has developed the Swift system of dress for the US Olympic track and field squad that reduces drag on key parts of the athlete’s body. Swift gloves and arm coverings have dimpled fabrics like a golf ball to cut wind resistance and allow arms to slice through the air faster. Its designers claim that compared to bare skin, the gloves and arm coverings reduce drag by 19 percent and the socks by 12.5 percent.

US swimmer Katie Hoff would be using Speedo’s new LZR Racer swimsuit in the Olympics that compresses her body at key points to reduce “form drag”, making her smaller and thus faster in the water. Speedo avoids fabric stitching as it increases drag and instead bonds the panels to the suit’s nylon core using ultrasonic ‘welding’.

Similarly, the Australian cycling team will use new bicycles that were tested in wind tunnels, similar to the ones used for designing aircraft, to help develop optimal aerodynamic carbon frame shapes and reduce drag.

Extensive use of technology has made the Olympics as much a competition in technology as in sporting prowess - a trend only set to rise in the future.

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