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Breakthroughs: 10 Technologies Changing the Olympics

Competition meets innovation

It’s hard to believe the 2012 summer Olympics are already upon us. While this year’s events will feel familiar, the athletes and venues have unquestionably evolved. The same holds true for the technology used to capture, record and share their feats with the globe. Long gone are the games of stark naked athletes, replaced by skintight suits that work magic with aerodynamics and leave little to the imagination. Gone, too, are the thrills of real-time, dead-heat finishes, since in the age of uber slo-motion capture even your jackass cousin will boast it clearly wasn’t that close, man. But change is good, no matter how many half-baked faults we complain about on the sly. The 10 technologies below are just a few of the many that will make this year’s London games the best ever for competitors and viewers alike.

See the list after the break.

Mondotrack surface


Thought Usain Bolt was fast before? Just wait. Italian company Mondo, designer of Olympic tracks since the 1992 games, has unveiled a racing surface called the Mondotrack that should make races even faster. Unlike typical tracks, which feature one combined layer of rubber, Mondo’s surface features a distinct, traction/performance layer set atop a “backing” shock-absorption skin. This thinner traction layer improves speed by reducing the bite depth of racers’s spikes (a slowing action), while diamond patterns in the bottom shock-absorbing layer provide more support and bounceback than the square-shaped cells from days of yore — mimicking the spring of a trampoline in miniature scale. Apparently the layers are both vulcanized; we think that makes them more like Spock, which is cool.

Glucose and Sleep Tracking


We know the basics of international sports preparation: carb-loading, a tapered workout leading up to the event, and that Michael Phelps eats a truckload of live goats per day. But health tech companies like DexCom, Zeo and Pathway Genomics are taking diet and sleep tracking to a whole new level for athletes this summer. Their cutting-edge new tools tell athletes exactly what to eat and how long to sleep. The U.S. men’s track cycling team, for example, will be testing new sleep, glucose and genetic nutrition monitoring technology from the aforementioned companies at this Olympics. The testing is a win-win: athletes get to maximize their performance, and health companies get to hone prototypes. Ideally, these monitors helping the quest for gold today will one day aid in the fight against diabetes and sleep disorders, or at the very least trickle down to amateur athletes everywhere.

Sustainable and Green Venues


We already highlighted the sleek design of the Olympic Velodrome, but really the entirety of the Olympic park deserves high praise. The Olympic Stadium, which will host track and field events and houses 80,000 spectators, is up for a RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Sterling Prize for its design and sustainability. The Park was built on a former brownfield site using an array of recycled materials — the Olympic Stadium minimizes the use of steel, and its roof trusses were made of old gas pipeline. Fourty-five hectares of green space were created in the park as well to provide wildlife habitat and protect water quality in the area, ensuring the new concrete jungle wouldn’t leave a menagerie of British animals (we assume they all have adorable accents) homeless.

Nike Athletic Gear


Nike’s role as a sports technology innovator will be on full display throughout the summer games through new trackwear, basketball uniforms and of course, footwear.

The Nike TurboSpeed Pro claims to cut out 0.023 seconds in the 100-meter dash compared to Nike’s prior suit. In competition of the highest level, that zip of time can mean the difference between first or, as Ricky Bobby would put it, last. In over 1,000 hours of aerodynamics test sessions, the suit’s engineers perfected its AeroSwift technology, which prints drag-reducing dimples — like those on a golf ball — onto the suit’s most air-resistant areas. The TurboSpeed also sports a “zero distraction” design, though we think the whole “you look somewhat naked in it” thing could cause problems, especially in the case of athletes like Australian Hurdler Michelle Jenneke.

Any shoe that’s designed only for one specific race distance gets our attention too. The Nike Zoom Victory Elite is made specially for the 1500-meter sprint, which is a mid-distance event, and uses vertical flywire cables along its exterior to create a flexible fit with minimal weight and a high tensile strength. A carbon fiber base plate crowns the shoe’s balance of flexibility with its pure minimal weight — the shoe is 98 grams, making it the lightest sprint spike ever, by the way.

Just like America’s basketball team monikers (dream, redeem, needs-self-esteem?), Nike’s Hyper Elite uniform boasts loads of flash. “Aerographics” allow the team’s leader-of-the-free-world logo to have maximum breathability with a mesh design. In fact, the entire jersey is made to add as little heat to the hard-dunking athletes as possible. HyperDunk shoes have the same flywire exterior as the Zoom Victory Elite sprinting shoe, and “lunarlon” soles provides bball-specific cushioning to support the high-flying players.

Getty Images’ Robotic and 3D Cameras


As football fans, we’re well acquainted with the robotic camera-on-a-wire that flies above the field and somehow avoids being creamed by the ball. What’s old news for American sports, though, is brand new for the Olympics this summer. Getty Images will be using fully remote-controllable cameras, equipped with 360 degree swiveling heads, to shoot from vantage points photographers can’t access — like rafters and other nifty niches. Getty will also experiment with 3D imagery during the games, with rigs equipped with two DSLRs for capturing a stereoscopic sense of depth.

Speedo Fastskin3


Speedo does for swimwear what Nike does for track suits — makes them damn fast and freakishly efficient. The Speedo Fastskin3, which includes a cap, goggles and a body suit, reduces body active drag by 5% and, somehow, gives swimmers an 11% oxygen economy boost (making each precious breath more efficient). We assume Speedo’s main researcher is a Merman.

Omega Quantum Timer and Aquatics Timer


You could say Omega is no amateur when it comes to the Olympic games — they’ve been the official timekeepers for 25 of them. Summer 2012 will feature the most accurate timekeeping ever, using the Quantum Timer and Aquatics Timer. Sixteen running times work simultaneously in the Quantum to bring resolution to one millionth of a second. That’s one hundred times greater than the previous timer. Oh, it’s also five times as accurate as the previous timekeeper. Talk about blowing away the competition.

iOS and Android Olympics Apps


We love the Olympics but, hey, we’ve got to work to bring you this beautiful site, too. We’re assuming you’re on the go also, and that’s why we’re glad there’s several great iOS and Android apps to help us watch and stay updated with our favorite parts of the games. The BBC Olympics app (free) provides great text-based updates and articles, including medal count tables; it’s simple and easy to use. NBC’s Olympics app and its Olympics Live Extra app are both free, but the ability to watch video depends on your cable company. Assuming you’ve got a compatible provider, you can watch live events as well as replays. If you’re lucky enough to be in London to see the games firsthand, check out the free Official Join in App, which is essentially a handy planner that includes all Olympic and Paralympic events.

Facebook Olympics Hub


Facebook sports pages usually feature a nice duality of obsessive/annoying fan babble and slews of obscene smack-talk. We’re pleasantly surprised with the Olympics’s Facebook page, which is both well designed and pleasantly friendly. The Hub centralizes pages for popular athletes, events, teams, where to watch and even business sponsors of the games into one social hotspot.

The London Eye Mood Monitor by Sosolimited


The feelings of a nation are complicated and hard to master, just like your better half’s. That’s why it’s impressively strange that Sosolimited, a Boston company, has created a mood ring of sorts on London’s “Eye” Ferris Wheel that depicts how Great Britain’s feeling about the Olympics. Using vocabulary algorithms to guage the mood of tweets with hashtags related to the 2012 summer Olympics (it expects to monitor 80,000 tweets a day), like “gold,” “win,” “lame” and “chaos,” the company maps social media opinions throughout the day. Then, in a 24 minute light show (scaled to the 24 hour day) every evening, the “Eye” will light up in colors: yellow for happiness, green for neutrality and purple for anger or sadness. Seeing as how social media is the perfect outlet for up-to-the-minute sports pride and smacktalk, we hope this interesting spectacle takes off.

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