The London Olympics 2012 have begun, and while all eyes will be on the athletes themselves, there’s no denying technology is playing a growing role in performance.
The first ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece in 776 BC, and even back then athletes employed a variety of gadgets and gizmos to enhance their performance. In long jump, for instance, Olympians used halters—a kind of dumbbell—held in both hands to propel their jumps. Now there’s a case of technological doping if ever I saw one.
The 2012 Games will showcase the very latest in cool tech. Here’s a sample of what to expect:
1. Faster Than Skin. Nike has created its lightest ever track and field uniform. The Nike Pro TurboSpeed bodysuit incorporates golf-ball-like dimples which reduce aerodynamic drag. The suit gives an advantage of 0.043 seconds, which can make the difference between a podium gold or silver.
In early experiments Nike took a glue gun to garments and tested how the blobs of glue—which created texture on the clothing—performed in a wind tunnel. Over 1000 hours of testing the shape, form and the placement of dimples revealed the best design. Nike Pro TurboSpeed is also environmentally friendly, made out of recycled bottles.
2. False Starts No More. A new electronic starting block from Omega replaces the old mechanical one which has been in use since the 1976 Montreal Games. The new blocks are completely fixed and use electronic sensors which measure force rather than movement. The force at which a runner pushes off from the starting block is easily measured. In tests 100-meter sprinter Asafa Powell pushed 240kg—three times his body weight—against the block.
3. Head Contouring & Avatars. Speedo’s new FASTSKIN3 hydrodynamic racing system improves oxygen economy by 11 percent and decreases active drag by 5.2 percent over standard swimming gear.
Speedo scanned athletes in swimming positions to produce a digital avatar and then manipulated their form and added theoretical shapes within the parameters of what is physically possible. Through simulation, the Speedo team calculated changes in drag using computational fluid dynamics until it found a theoretically perfect body form.
4. Precision Tracking. When we think of BAE Systems we might picture defense and security equipment, but the company has long been lending its expertise in engineering, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, and mathematical modeling to sports. This year, in partnership with UK Sport, its laser-timing system is tracking cyclists as they train at the Manchester Velodrome in preparation for the Games.
The laser-timing system—derived from a battlefield identification system—helps to monitor the performance of up to 30 cyclists training simultaneously, providing each athlete with individual split times with millisecond accuracy by reading a personalized tag attached to each bike.
5. Cameras That Go EVERYWHERE. Designing cameras that can capture the every move of an athlete can be challenging, especially when it comes to synchronized swimming. Up until now it’s been impossible to get an entire picture of a synchronized swimmer above and below the water simultaneously due to the different way light reflects in air and water.
6. Nanotechnology. The Great Britain sailing team will be using an invisible nano-coating—ordinarily employed to protect soldiers from chemical weapons—applied to the teams’ equipment and clothing before they go on the water.
The nano-coating, developed by English firm P2i, forms a layer which allows air to penetrate through clothing but repels water.
Tests have shown that taking on extra weight from mud and water can slow times by up to 15 seconds.