How Uniforms Influence Speed Skating Performance

With the Winter 2018 Olympics in full swing, it is easy to get caught up analyzing an athlete’s performance, from the routine to the costume. Of course costumes are meant to attract all of attention to the individual wearing them, but could there possibly be another, more scientific, reason for wearing these eye catching get-ups? The Washington Post recently put out an article that goes to answer this question. “In the Olympics, what athletes wear is often more about science than style,” by Rachel Feltman, explores the motivation behind uniforms worn by speed skaters.

This article looks at various factors related to costuming which may play into how a speed skater performs during a race. Comfort and personal preference of one color over another were two aspects of the costume that played a role in an individual’s performance. If the skater was comfortable and believed that they would shave a few seconds off their time in a blue suit rather than a red suit, time would actually improve. This points back to the belief that the mind has the ability to elevate an athlete’s skills or performance based on how they think they should be operating.

There is more to speed skating though than just the color of the costume, skill of the athlete, and comfort of the suit. As the individual skates across the ice, they are experiencing a considerable drag from the air. While air does not create as great of a drag force on speed skaters as water creates on swimmers, it could be the deciding factor between which athlete receives gold and silver due to the milliseconds this force costs the athletes. For this reason, countries have invested time and money into researching a uniform that would not only be stylish and comfortable, but also aerodynamic. In 2014 Under Armour began to research the best possible combination, trying out over 250 combination of fabric. The final costume worked to make the skater as sleek as possible to reduce drag, used fabrics that would not create frictional forces as the skater’s thighs rubbed together, and was dotted with tiny bumps to allows the skater to fly across the ice, similar to how a golf ball speeds through the air.

This article relates directly back to the topics covered in this course because it looks at how engineering principles influence the sports world. It looks at topics such as reducing friction, making the athletes more aerodynamic, and showcases how much time and energy goes into creating these products.

It is interesting to see how costumes influence an athlete, and begs the question as to whether or not there are other facets of uniform design which would be optimized to increase performance. Aerodynamics and friction have both been explored in this article, but could there be others as well?

Works Cited:

Feltman, R. (2018, January 21). In the Olympics, what athletes wear is often more about science than style. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/kidspost/in-the-olympics-what-athletes-wear-is-often-more-about-science-than-style/2018/01/19/67626414-f6ce-11e7-a9e3-ab18ce41436a_story.html?utm_term=.a1979b18e25b

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2 thoughts on “How Uniforms Influence Speed Skating Performance

  1. This is an interesting point of discussion as engineered uniforms have caused controversy in the past, particularly at the Olympic level. With this being said, I think it is also worth mentioning that some of these uniforms use similar technology to that of the compression clothing that Allison and I wrote about for our Research Says. So, not only do they aim to minimize friction and optimize an athletes aerodynamics, they also could potentially reap some straight physiological benefits (if you agree that the use of compression clothing actually improves performance/recovery).

    • Cassie, I think that you have brought up some really interesting points. It made me think more about how new technologies can change the expectations that we have of how different sports and exercise should be played. If wearing compression clothing really does reap some physiological benefits to athletes both during and after exercise, it makes me wonder how fair the sports world is. Athletes who have better access to this high tech clothing could be performing better than their competitors simply by choosing the “right” outfit. It would be interesting to look at a study that tracks performance of a group of athletes during a game or practice wearing compression clothing, as compared to a practice where they did not wear compression clothing.

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