London 2012 Olympics: Fluid Technology for Track and Field (Athletics)

A big draw of any Olympics is the track and field (athletics) events and no less so in London. What effect is the application of fluid technology to these events likely to have? If past Olympics are anything to go by - not much!

Nike Pro Turbospeed Promo Video: Starts at 0:50

For the last Olympics in Beijing, Nike made available the Swift System, with various regions of the multipart system sporting textured fabrics for drag reduction, similar in concept to the dimples you see on golf balls. However, I only recall Sonya Richards-Ross in the women's 400m (3rd) wearing the full compliment of the kit that included arm and leg bands.

For the London Olympics Nike have developed a new low-drag running suit called the Nike Pro TurboSpeed, which again uses strategically positioned textured fabrics (more explicit dimples this time around) to reduce drag. The new running suit is part of Nike's ongoing Project Swift, which aims to develop clothing that maximizes running speed. Nike claims that the full-body suit underwent 1,000 hours of wind tunnel testing. It's interesting to note that the equivalent all-in-one swimsuits were deemed technology doping and banned from swimming competitions in 2010.

Fluid technology applied to running outfits only has a narrow band of effectiveness. Nike will likely only recommend that sprinters in the 100m and 200m wear the suit. For the longer events, athletes run slower (though I challenge you to maintain Olympic marathon pace for more than 1/2 mile) and at low speeds drag is not a significant performance factor (excluding a strong headwind). However, heat generation (always a factor at summer Olympics) and dissipating that heat is a prime factor in performance, especially in the longer running events (i.e., 10km and marathon). So don't expect to see the full coverage running suit in the distance races.