Monday, July 30th, 2012

Plastics Helping Olympians Go Faster, Longer, More Colorfully

The issue of Sports illustrated magazine published just prior to the London Olympic Games included a foldout sampling the latest technologies that will be in use during the current version of the quadrennial athletics spectacular. As always, plastics are prominent in most of them, and as usual not identified by the word plastic. Here are some examples:

Soccer: Nike says its new GS soccer boot, which many Olympians will be wearing, is its lightest, weighing in at 160 grams/5.64 oz. (men’s size 9). The players can go faster. That plastics are employed in most parts of the shoe is nothing new, but what is new is that 70% of the overall material content is recycled, including polyester from post-consumer packaging such as water bottles.

Nike GS soccer boot 70% recycled materials

Nike’s new GS soccer boot is ultralight and made of 70% recycled materials.

The shoe’s sustainability is a major selling point: GS stands for

Green Speed. The shoe’s U.S.-based designer Andy Caine said his team was challenged by Nike to develop a new boot that included only the elements needed for high speed and control, and that is produced in a more environmentally conscientious manner. Thus the GS combines high-end performance and a low environmental footprint. The Nike GS will be for sale in mid-August at $300 per pair.

Carbon-fiber-reinforced-plastic makes the BMC TM01 lighter, stiffer, faster.

Cycling: At the Olympic cycling time trial, U.S. racer Taylor Phinney will have a $15,000 BMC Timemachine TMO1 bike under him that makes strategic use of carbon-fiber-reinforced-plastic (CFRP) components. The frame, fork and seat post are made of CFRP. The composites increase the bike’s stiffness, allowing a more efficient transfer of pedal power into cycle speed. CFRP also allows the overall bike to weigh just 17 pounds, giving Phinney less to carry to the finish line.

Modular plastics blocks used to create London Olympics whitewater course.

Whitewater: Until now, Olympic whitewater canoe and kayaking courses have been made of concrete with permanently embedded obstacles adding turbulence and challenges to the fast-flowing water. The $48-million Olympic Slalom Course in London employs large, modular RapidBloc plastic blocks to create the actual course—turbulence, eddies, etc.—rather than the traditional permanently fixed obstacles. Lightweight and interchangeable, the course can be easily reconfigured for future events. Computer-based design and pre-fabrication meant that the Olympic course was commissioned in a record three weeks.

Olympic Field Hockey Pitch, London

Field hockey experts say this colorful polyethylene surface plays great, too.

Field Hockey: In an aerial view of the London Olympic sites, nothing is more eye-catching than the field hockey venue, a bright blue playing surface with a bright pink border. The surface is Poligras from global supplier STI-Sports Technology International. The top layer is a water-saving polyethylene yarn that gives elite players the characteristics for faster, more accurate play, while providing increased protection and comfort for the player. Using a yellow ball on the blue surface increases visibility for players and spectators.

U.S. women will row a steadier, lighter CFRP shell in Thursday’s Olympic finals.

Rowing: When the U.S. women’s eights rowing team competes in the finals this Thursday, it will be in a high-density, carbon-fiber-reinforced-plastic shell designed to be stiffer and steadier. The riggers, which are holsters for the oars, are also made of CFRP. Composites technology for the rowing shells has been advancing steadily and are dominant among the Olympic crews.

There are many other applications of plastics in every Olympics, and for that matter, in virtually every sporting event. Most obvious is the uniforms: Synthetic materials’ domination is virtually complete and this year many teams’ uniforms use recycled materials. Yet plastics mostly are denied a credit line. Descriptive information about the composite rowing shells and  racing bike components simply say these are made of ‘carbon fiber’.

Doesn’t anyone wonder what keeps those carbon fibers together? It’s plastics, folks, and that’s worth mentioning.

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