Team USA Goes High-Tech in Sochi

The expectations are high for Team USA at this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The team brought home whopping 37 medals—the most a country has ever won—from the 2010 Vancouver games, and the pressure is on for 2014.

The U.S. speedskating and bobsled teams aren’t leaving anything to chance in their quest for the gold. Along with steely determination and impressive athletic ability, new technology and cutting-edge equipment will help give the US a competitive advantage.

The world’s fastest speedskating suit. Speedskating is not a sport generally known for technical innovation, but after this year’s Winter Olympics that will change. Taking a cue from Michael Phelps in 2012, U.S. speedskating team members will be utilizing one-of-a-kind, high-tech uniforms to help them take gold.

Sporting goods company Under Armour and defense contractor Lockheed Martin partnered to create an aerodynamic suit they call the Mach 39, designed to give the U.S. team an edge over the competition.

The Mach 39 (which is 29,687.1 MPH, for those of you wondering,) looks like any other speedskating uniform: a form-fitting bodysuit with a hood. What makes it unique, according to Under Armour, is the “flow molding,” polyurethane bumps and dips that are molded (as opposed to sewed or glued) strategically onto the suit. These bumps and dips on the fabric, analyzed by computational fluid dynamics at Lockheed Martin and put through 300 hours of wind tunnel testing, disrupt airflow around the skater’s body and allows for increased speeds.

The Mach 39 also has an open mesh fabric on the upper back and spine to regulate temperature, and glide fabric in the thigh and underarm regions reduces friction by as much as 65%

Warp speed sledding. Winning a bobsled event can depend on small fractions of a second, making aerodynamic sled designs top priority. The U.S. bobsled is designed by BMW and race car driver Michael Scully. The overall goal: to make the sled like a sports car.

To achieve this, Scully lowered the sled’s center of gravity and narrowed the nose for increased aerodynamics. Computer design tools were used to create a prototype made of lightweight carbon fiber, which was then wind tunnel tested. Lead sheets were strategically attached to the interior of the sled to help with speed, but of course the exact location of these are being kept tightly under wraps until the event on February 16.

The two-man bobsled also utilizes AERO Advanced Paint Technology, a film-based paint that is lighter and more durable than other materials previously used on the sleds. While typical spray paint requires multiple applications and layers of coating, AERO only requires one coat, and because the graphics are embedded within AERO, there will be less drag.

Is it the man, or the technology? While the engineering and technology being employed by Olympic teams is impressive and helpful, there is still an ongoing debate as to whether it gives these finely tuned athletes an unfair advantage.

The Speedo LZR Racer suit or example was banned less than a year after the 2008 Olympics due to out-cry that it played a major role in Michael Phelps’ gold medal wins. Critics \are asking if records will soon be truly attributed to human ability, or if it will all be because of “technology doping.”

Do you think these technological innovations are detracting from athletic ability, or are they simply adding more intrigue and excitement to the Olympics?

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

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