‘Smart’ clothing is changing the idea of competition at the top level of sport.
By some measures, Michael Phelps may be the world’s greatest athlete. His Olympic medal count alone has secured the American swimmer a place in the history books. And while training and nutrition have most certainly played an enormous impact in his success, would Phelps, his teammates, or any of their competition, have achieved their recent record breaking heights without the help of advanced technology?
At the Beijing Olympics in 2008 athlete’s wearing Speedo’s LZR Racer swimsuit blew the competition out of the water with an astounding 94% of gold medals won, and 23 of the 25 world records broken. The NASA-tested suit worked with the swimmer’s bodies to augment and increase their efficiency by holding the body into its most advantageous position while reducing drag, allowing these athletes to move through the water in a way that would otherwise be impossible. It worked so well that the suit was banned in the London 2012 Olympics, referring to the suits as a form of “technological doping”.
With new regulations for Olympic swimwear set in place, Speedo rose to the task of outdoing themselves. The Fastskin3 system includes a suit made with patented Hydro-K 3D Fabric, which reduces drag up to 3.3%, and still manages to shape an athlete’s body into its most (within regulations) hydrodynamic form. The goggles are, surprisingly enough, the first to be designed based on the natural contours of the human head and face, and, when worn with the Fastskin3 swim cap, the combination is reported to reduce full body drag by up to 6%.
Check out the official commercial describing some of this really amazing stuff:
All thanks to the wonders of technology. As Leisel Jones, Australian Olympic Gold medalist swimmer, put it: “With the Speedo FASTSKIN3 Racing System you feel like you’ve been propelled into the future.”
But drag isn’t just a problem in the pool. US Track & Field athletes, as well as runners from Germany, Russia, and China sported Nike’s AeroSwift. The high-tech material features sections of small dimples, similar to those on a golf ball, that are positioned on parts of the body most affected by air resistance as determined by data gathered from over thousands of hours of wind-tunnel testing. In a sport where the ‘photo-finish’ is common, even a small reduction in time can mean being the first over the line.
Not all the credit can go to the clothes, of course. These people are in peak physical condition. They train relentlessly, and strive to maintain dauntingly healthy lifestyles. But these days, even the strictly disciplined routine of an Olympic hopeful might not stand up to the high-tech competition.
Advanced technologies are also enabling athletes and coaches to gain a better understanding of what happens to the body during competition and practice. This new wealth of available data allows trainers to take into account the health and performance of an athlete, contributing to better decisions.
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