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Rio Olympics 2016: this is how athletes are using wearables to win medals

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The Olympics are the pinnacle of athletic achievement. There is no elite athlete who doesn’t strive to wear their country’s colors in the opening ceremony and hear their national anthem standing atop the podium. And just as the Olympics are known as the ultimate showcase of athleticism, they have also become known as a place for the most well-researched and highly tested tech innovations to make their debuts.

Researchers are constantly trying to figure out how to give athletes an edge over the competition, in every discipline. In 2008, for example, those full-body LZR swimsuitsfacilitated a host of new world records that year. And while the right running shoe won’t make a sprinter minutes faster, it can help improve her speed by fractions of a second. At the Olympics, those fractions can be the difference between a medal or no medal.

1. At first glance, that yellow patch looks a bit like KT Tape, the elastic therapeutic tape that athletes will wear in strategic places to provide muscle support.

But those black dots are the noticeable distinguishing factor: It’s actually Nike’s AeroSwift Tape, which was created by testing movement around the body in wind tunnels. Researchers wanted to find the exact shape and placement of tape that could reduce drag, so that athletes could move through the air more quickly and efficiently.

The raised rubber nodes, or blades, on the tape are meant to move wind in specific directions around the body. The pattern of the AeroBlades on the tape, along with where the tape is placed on the legs and arms, is different for various track and field events, since the positioning depends on the speed the athlete is running at (someone running a marathon is running at a much different speed than a sprinter).

Those same raised AeroBlade nodes are included on the Vapor kits that Nike’s track and field athletes, including Allyson Felix, will be wearing, from their arm sleeves down to her legs. These are made of recycled polyester material.

2. You’ll see swimmers such as Missy Franklin hit the water in Speedo’s new LZR Racer X suit. The suit has laser-cut straps to ensure it lays flat against the body (preventing any drag in the water) and helps improve range of motion through the arms.

The «X»-shaped seams that you can see around Franklin’s abs are intended to stabilize her core as she kicks through the water. The suit also has a vertical stretch to help with flexibility in forward starts off the block and turns at the wall.

3. Speedo’s Fatskin3 Elite Goggles have a 3-D goggle seal that helps the goggles conform to the eyes more closely and ensures that no water leaks in. The lenses also have an anti-fog coating to prevent condensation from forming.

When used in conjunction with the cap, the goggles can reduce drag in the water by up to 5.7%. That might not sound like a lot, but it can make the difference at the finish, as one swimmer barely out-touches another for gold.

4. The decathlon is one of the most mentally and physically grueling competitions of the games. An athlete puts their body through 10 total track and field events (including the long jump, shot put, and hurdles), each of which uses different skill sets and requires maximum focus and preparation.

When reigning Olympic champ (and currentVogue cover star) Ashton Eaton goes for gold in Rio, you might see him wearing an odd-lookingcooling hood created for him by the Nike Sports Research Lab.

Its purpose: to help Eaton recover faster between events by quickly cooling down his head, one of the most temperature-sensitive parts of the body. You can think of the hood as a highly effective air conditioner for your face.

5. If you’ve ever worn spikes on the bottom of your running shoes, you know that the sensation is drastically different than a flat shoe. Spikes — sharp points strategically placed along the sole of the shoe — bring you up on your toes. They propel your body forward, which makes them perfect for sprinters, whose forward motion is paramount.

Nike designed custom spikes for elite runners such as Allyson Felix and Shelly-Anne Fraser-Price that are specific to each runner’s speed and foot size.
The ideal spike is a stiff, rigid structure, helping the foot hit the ground with more force, while still feeling light. The arrangement of the spikes along the sole of Nike’s track shoes are modeled off of geometrical structures from nature — it’s almost honeycomb-like.

The bright color gradients on Nike’s track and field spike shoes are meant to resemble the iridescent wings of tropical birds and insects in flight — a nod to the fact that the athletes’ bodies are in flight, as well.

6. For volleyball players, cyclists, golfers, and triathletes — all of whom also have to contend with the sun in competition — reducing glare is a must. Oakley is hoping that its Green Fade glasses, which will be worn by volleyball champ Kerri Walsh and Olympic triathlete Gwen Jorgensen, will block out those harsh rays of light.

The lenses of the glasses have Prizm technology, the same technology that Oakley uses in its snow and ski goggles. The Prizm lenses reduce glare but also have color tuning (the cool-looking gradation in Walsh’s shades here) that works kind of like an Instagram filter.

7. Track cyclists have even been interrogating live data during training using augmented reality glasses developed by Solos.

Data collected from bike sensors, such as power, speed and pedal revolutions, are beamed wirelessly to the cyclist’s glasses via IBM’s cloud platform. As the athletes pedal furiously they can view their key stats without taking their eyes off the track.

Heads-up display of track cyclistImage copyrightSOLOS
Image captionThe Solos smart glasses display performance data as you ride

«With the ability for the athlete to receive real-time feedback via the Solos smart glasses, they can now adjust on the fly,» says Ernesto Martinez, a director at Solos.

«For example, if cyclists need to meet a specific lap time or power metric during an exchange or portion of the race, they will be able to see whether they are hitting the mark or not and adjust accordingly.

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