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08/06/2012

Writer, Fatter, Slower: The second skin

 The various team uniforms at the 2012 Olympics are wonders of fabric technology. The advances in research, construction and fibers can take tenths off times - the difference between the dreaded fourth place and the medal stand.

Perhaps you've noticed the blur of nuclear yellow green racing spikes that fly down the track. These are new Nike Zoom Superfly R4 and Nike Zoom Victory Elite. They marry a light weight spike plate with a minimum amount of fabric and cables that  minimize weight and bulk.

Nike shoes on Sanya Richards-Ross
Sanya Richards-Ross, center, crosses the finish line ahead Britain's Christine Ohuruogu, both wearing Nike's super soft racing shoes.  

The Nike shoes for marathon runners are constructed of a single piece upper that looks knitted and without the glue or stitching needed for a multiple piece top the shoe is 19 percent lighter- the equivalent of the weight of a car over the distance of a marathon  - or 40,000 steps says Nike's Martin Lotti, Nike's Olympics creative director.

NikeTF_Innovation_Fa12_NikePro_Turbospeed-03_detail_sleeve_largeApparel is tested for speed as well. Rather than being smoother and faster some pieces in the runner's wardrobe are dimpled like a golf ball. It defies logic but dimpled fast patches applied on the forearm and leg, the fastest moving body parts, minimize aerodynamnic drag. Nike wind tunnel-tested the track suits and found them to be up to 0.023 seconds faster over 100m than previous track uniforms, and found an appreciable difference in times for various distances. "We couldn't believe the numbers," said Lotti, "That's not just the difference between first and second place, it's about making the podium."

 

The track suit is made of recycled water bottles, it takes 13 of them for a smooth fitting body suit, the looser basketball uniform, also made from recycled plastics but it takes 22 bottles to cover LeBron and is lighter than suits past.Basketballl side view

 It hasn't deflected the haters though. Some people say, from the side the basketball unifrom looks like a mullet hair cut, or Cadillac fins. By comparison though it is one of the least expensive pieces of Olympic gear.  Want a Kobe jersey? It wills set you back $120. a Nike Hyperdunk basketball shoe, that's $250. 

The Fastskin 3 swimsuits for men and women by Speedo is more than twice that price and it's not dimpled but it offers even better performance enhancing numbers.

Pardon me, it's not just a swimsuit, it's a racing systemof goggles, cap and swimsuit.  Together they reduce drag up 16.6 percent and an 11 percent improvement in oxygen economy. By slicing the top off the men's suit and cutting both off at the knees, the suits for men and women satisfy the Fédération Internationale de Natation specifications for acceptibility. Which is why you saw so many swimmers, including Michael Phelps and swim sweathearts Missy Franklin and Dana Vollmer, wearing the black on black suits. The bright pink suits of a similar cut were by British manufacturer Arena, and functioned similarly. Rebecca Soni wore an Arena suit to capture her gold medals. The price of such sleek speed is around $600 per suit. 

Fast skins and one ARena suit

United States swimmers Dana Vollmer in a Speedo Fastskin 3, Rebecca Soni in bright pink Arena suit and Missy Franklin, right in a Speedo Fastskin 3 wait as their teammate finishes their gold medal-winning relay.

 Cycling team pursuit Sara HammerThe uniform with standard tech features of permanent antimicrobial treatment, 50+ UVP and sweat wicking, is more popular for its fierce graphic design that  could pass for super hero gear. It's by Skins, and is reminiscent, intentionally so, of 1980s racing uniforms. It can be yours for $100.

Team pursuit cycling uniform
Silver medalists as super heros, Jennie Reed, right, Dotsie Bausch, center, and Sarah Hammer, left, the United States's women's pursuit team.

--Gaile Robinson 

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