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New Clothing Helps Olympians


When it comes to speed, what athletes wear is taken very seriously. In the Winter Olympics, that is especially true in a sport like speed skating, where fractions of a second can mean the difference between winning a medal or not. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer is in Turin and got some insight into the latest technology by Nike, called the Swift Skin.

Nike's Project Swift has been ongoing since 1998 and actually started with a one-piece track and field uniform for the Sydney Olympics.

The company introduced the full-body speed skating Swift Skin at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and has continued to make improvements to the Swift Skin being worn by top long and short-track speed skaters in Turin. Now, Nike even has specially designed Swift apparel for ice hockey players.

Nathan Demarest, an Advanced Innovation Designer for Nike, told VOA Sports about one component of the Swift Skin for speed skaters.

"One of those is zoned aerodynamics, and that is about putting different fabrics on the body in various places that would optimize the drag that they would encounter. A perfect example is the forearm when it moves through the air. If they are moving at 25 miles an hour [40 kph], the arm is actually moving a little bit faster when they come through [swing the arm]. It is also really a small diameter cylinder, so it needs a particular fabric texture that will optimize it as it moves through the air."

Demarest said the fabric is coated, and while it is cold on the ice, heat builds up inside as a skaters heart rate increases, so the Swift Skin is vented in the back to release excess heat.

Just like race cars are tested in wind tunnels for aerodynamics, Nike does the same with its Swift Skin uniforms. Demarest cites some figures for speed skating.

"In a 1,500-meter race, the difference between this suit that we have created and a competitor's suit that we have tested is about 130 centimeters, which does not seem like a lot," he said. "But if you look at the races and the final times, it comes down to hundredths of a second sometimes, so it is a difference that they notice and can definitely see when they are out there, and then it shows up on the clock."

One of the American speed skaters who wears the Swift Skin is Chad Hedrick, who won the gold medal in Turin in the men's 5,000 meters. VOA Sports asked Hedrick, who is also a favorite for Tuesday's 1,500 meters, about the snug fitting, one-piece uniform.

"It just feels like you are sort of gliding through the air, and you know that is a big advantage compared to the other countries who do not use it, " said Chad Hedrick. "And I go out there and see them and I am just like, 'How can you not be using this thing', after I see the differences in practice. It is really, really fast, and I have never worn anything like it."

Nike's Nathan Demarest says its not just American speed skaters who are wearing the Swift Skin at the Turin Olympics.

"In short track, we have Korea and China," he said. "We also have a smaller contingent of Ukraine athletes and Dutch athletes, so we definitely have a group of teams competing in the suit."

And there are likely to be more in the future if the success of those wearing the Swift Skin continues.

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