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Re: speed skating suits

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  • Re: speed skating suits


    I had the pleasure of working with the team that developed the "Swift" speed
    suits, including two aerodynamicists (Chet Kyle and Len Brownlie) and two
    NIKE apparel wizards (Rick MacDonald & Eddie Harber) and

    The goal of the program was to make use of the properties of some new
    synthetic materials to reduce the drag on fast moving athletes. We began
    with kinematic analyses of sprint runners using video of World Championship
    100 m races from Athens. Using simple geometric forms to represent segments,
    we estimated air flow and drag during the running step and calculated the
    orientation of segments at which drag would be greatest. Materials with
    different surface properties were selected for different regions of the suit
    based on the estimated velocity and direction of air flow over different
    parts of the body. In general, each material was selected, based on wind
    tunnel testing, to encourage microturbulence in the boundary layer, thus
    delaying wake separation and reducing drag. The different patches you see on
    the suits are these different materials. Seam placements, hood profiles,
    etc., were also designed with drag reduction in mind. Also, patches of
    low-friction materials were used in areas where limbs rub against one

    The first suits were used in Sydney and a new design, based on more
    kinematics and wind tunnel data and tuned to the higher velocities and more
    stable body configuration of speed skaters is currently being used in Salt
    Lake City by the American, Dutch and Australian teams.

    "Effectiveness" is tough to measure since the projected benefits are small
    compared with many other factors, including the psychological effect of
    being given a suit that is intended to enhance performance. Wind tunnel
    testing shows a significant reduction in drag compared with conventional
    suits, and models can be used to estimate how much that drag reduction will
    affect performance. The calculated performance differences for sprinters are
    small, but greater than the margin by which Marion Jones lost the World
    Championship 100 m last year. The speed skaters are more likely to benefit
    because of their higher average velocities. It is doubtful if we will ever
    know the real effect with any precision, however. The manikins used in the
    wind tunnel are static and the athletes, obviously, are not; so there are
    dynamic effects that we cannot account for. Also, while times in Salt Lake
    can be compared with "expectations", there are no direct experimental
    controls to compare with Olympic performances. I hope to compare individual
    performances in Salt Lake with each athlete's previous personal record, to
    see if those wearing the new suits did better, relative to their previous
    best, than those in conventional suits. This comparison will provide an
    interesting anecdote but, since the distribution of suits among athletes is
    not random, it will not be a definitive test of "effectiveness".


    Martyn Shorten
    BioMechanica, LLC.
    Portland, Oregon, USA

    -----Original Message-----
    From: Steve LeBlanc [mailto:zeppo@IS2.DAL.CA]
    Sent: Friday, February 15, 2002 11:17 AM
    Subject: speed skating suits

    In watching the Olympic speed skating competitions, I notice that many of
    the body suits the athletes are wearing seem to have special patches of
    textured material or other irregularities. Are these used to try to reduce
    drag from wind resistance somehow? I am assuming this would be similar to
    some of the textured swim suits seen in Sydney.

    Perhaps someone with insight into the body suit and/or bathing suit
    designs could enlighten us on the effectiveness of these "sartorial

    Steve LeBlanc MSc
    Instructor, School of Health and Human Performance, Dalhousie University
    Email: Webpage:
    ================================================== ======================
    "I've done...questionable things. Nothing the god of biomechanics
    wouldn't let you into heaven for."

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