Beijing Olympics

Chitose Suzuki/AP
New products like the DHS Hurricane King Table Tennis Paddle, used by China’s Wang
Liqin, will soon be available to the masses.

Olympic Innovation and Technology, Coming to a Store Near You

August 25, 2008 08:51 AM
by Anne Szustek
Goods developed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics could prove popular in the general consumer market. Which innovations from this year’s games have staying power?

Seen in the Olympics, Available Now

Revamped pingpong paddles and volleyballs, handy energy pastes and groundbreaking architecture are but a few of the legacies left by the 2008 Olympic Games. The quadrennial event is usually a showcase for streamlined products.

The BT Blade, a bike from a single-piece carbon frame developed for the Australian national cycling team by, appropriately, Bike Technologies Australia, may not be a holiday blockbuster, given its $25,000 price tag.

But other more affordably priced items may make their way into gift-giving festivities. Mikasa’s new volleyball, retailing for $59.99, was in play in indoor volleyball games at the Olympics. Its eight-panel construction, rather than the traditional 18, and the glued-together seams allows for better handling, as hands touch more of the ball’s surface.

Energy gel packets, used by endurance athletes to keep up glycogen stores during competition, while easily digested, made a mess out of bikers’ and runners’ hands. Nestle, the parent company of popular energy food brand PowerBar, developed a gel enclosed in a casing that is easier for athletes to pop in the middle of a race.

Table tennis aficionados may spring for the $173 DHS Hurricane King Table Tennis Paddle, developed by Double Happiness Sports and used by two-time Chinese medalist Wang Liqin.

According to BusinessWeek, “the Hurricane King is a bit lighter than standard models, and its rubber covering helps Wang put more topspin on the ball.”

Speedo’s Sidewinder Goggles, which debuted on American swimmer Peter Vanderkaay, thanks to the elimination of traditional eye socket cushioning, have less drag in the water. And the U.S. “Redeem” basketball team showed off Nike’s new Hyperdunk Basketball Shoe, which has an upper layer sewn together with threads made of liquid crystals.

Non-athletes can appreciate other novelties developed for this year’s games. Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron designed the Beijing National Stadium. Evocative of a bird’s nest, its design required Chinese construction workers to learn new welding techniques.

The National Aquatic Center, also known as the “Water Cube,” is covered in a blue coating made of multiple layers of a plastic-like material known as ethylene-tetra-fluoro-ethylene, or ETFE. The panels provide cushioning with low-pressure air that acts as insulation, keeping down heating bills. Cooling systems were the raison d’être behind the aluminum alloy covering the basketball venue.

Historical Context: Past Olympic innovations

Stephen Urquhart, president of watch company Omega Worldwide, the official timekeeper of the Olympics since 1932, told BusinessWeek, “Timing a prestigious sporting event gives real credibility to our brand.” The company has a history of rolling out new product at the games. This year its new products were motion sensors that detect false starts and GPS systems to track rowing teams.

In 1964, Omega came up with a method to show athlete’s finishing times on television screens—now standard practice in broadcast sports journalism. Also making inroads in Olympic logistics was IBM at the Squaw Valley, Calif. Winter Olympics in 1960, which introduced computerized scoring, as well as profiling its then avant-garde mainframe computers in a glass display.

Purely sports-oriented innovations have entered the American lexicon during the Olympics as well. The clap skate, a type of speed skate where the blade is fixed to the boot by a front hinge rather than to the entire sole, was first developed by the VU University Amsterdam’s Faculty of Movement Sciences in the mid-1980s, but the first Olympics where it gained widespread use was the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The U.S. speed skating team was at first hesitant to adopt the new skate, which is the norm in the elite levels of the sport today.

Olympic innovations need not be a tangible good. Those who have never strapped on a pair of spikes may have heard of the high-jumping technique known today as the Fosbury flop. American high jumper Dick Fosbury used the technique on his way to a gold medal in the event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The Fosbury flop involves taking a few steps towards the jumping pit, then turning when readying to take the jump and flying with one’s back facing the bar. The technique is now the most commonly taught way to high jump. Previous to the Flop, most high jumpers used methods that resembled hurdling. The International Olympic Committee writes that Fosbury was unaware that a jumper from Montana was photographed using the technique in 1963.

Related Topic: Kerri Walsh’s therapeutic tape

Olympic viewers were intrigued by the lattice-like black tape adorning the shoulder of U.S. gold medalist beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh. The Kinesio tape was developed 25 years ago by Japanese chiropractor Dr. Kenzo Kase. Prior to the 2008 Olympic Games, Kinesio received about 250 orders a month. After one of Walsh’s matches, demand skyrocketed to 1,600 a day. The tape is meant to treat muscular injuries by improving joint circulation.

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