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Tech toys rule at the Games

August 18, 2008 08:56 IST

The Olympics have come a long way since the first one in Athens where athletes alone mattered. Over a century later, technology too is helping athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics games to smash records.

Take, for instance, the swimwear LZR Racer, launched by UK-based Speedo, this February. Assisted in its creation by NASA scientists, 44 out of 48 world records have been smashed by athletes (including seven Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps at the Beijing games) wearing the suit. The swimwear is ultra-sonically welded, hence has no seams which reduces passive drag and increases speed.

A reduction in drag helps athletes on the track too. The new Nike Swift Suit is said to translate into a benefit of about .02 of a second in the 100 metres, though it did not help Asafa Powell this time around.

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

The garments are getting thinner too. Nike's Aerographics, for instance, is an engineered mesh that can remove up to half the yarn in a garment. The new technique cuts weight by reducing the amount of material, while adding comfort and passive cooling to the garment itself - no small matter given the heat and humidity in Beijing in August.

Moreover, Nike's Flywire technology allowed it to make its lightest and strongest footwear ever. Track spikes with Flywire are now under 100 grams.

Nike 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.

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

Such is the precision needed during an Olympics event that German sports goods giant Adidas, too, 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 its spike pattern makes the wearer always lean towards the left. The reason - on an oval track, there are no right turns and therefore the shoes provide leftward propulsion.

Moreover, 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.  Incidentally, the Beijing Olympics event is officially the most expensive gaming event in history with around $41 billion spent between 2001 and 2007 on infrastructure, energy, transportation and water supply projects.

It also marks the debut of online and on-demand video - roughly 200 hours of coverage per day for the duration of the games.

Leslie D'Monte in Mumbai
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