ARCHIVED - NRC Puts Scientific Muscle behind Canada's Skeleton Team

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February 06, 2006— Ottawa, Ontario

Members of the national skeleton team in one of NRC's wind tunnels.
Members of the national skeleton team in one of NRC's wind tunnels.

Winning Olympic gold requires a special mix of personal attributes. There are the years of long work-outs, dedication and singular focus. More than ever, though, the path to Olympic success has personal sweat mixing with science. And when Canadian athletes hit the snow and ice at the Turin Olympics, many will have a crucial technological push to the podium from National Research Council of Canada scientists.

The wind tunnel is used to assess the aerodynamics of the athlete's equipment, including the sled, helmet and suit, and also his or her positioning.
The wind tunnel is used to assess the aerodynamics of the athlete's equipment, including the sled, helmet and suit, and also his or her positioning.

NRC has a long history of working with Canadian athletes to boost their performances. The famous Crazy Canucks downhill skiers of the 1970s and 1980s, including Ken Read and Steve Podborski, finessed their aerodynamic styles in NRC wind tunnels. Now the push is on through the Canadian Olympic Committee's Own the Podium 2010 program to see Canadian athletes win a record 35 medals at the 2010 Vancouver-Whistler Winter Olympics, double the number Canadians won at Salt Lake City. And once again, NRC researchers are working to help Canadian athletes bridge the difference between a good performance and gold.

 
 
Did you know?
 
 

Did you know that NRC worked to produce better bobsled runners for the Canadian Olympic Team?

 
 

In preparation for the 1992 Winter Olympics, Mr. Mahmud Islam and his team from the NRC Integrated Manufacturing Technologies Institute (NRC-IMTI) applied laser techniques to change the surface properties of the bobsled runners. The results were improved speed, less wear and corrosion.

 
 

"What do we need to do to get an athlete from a top five showing to the podium? Certainly they need better coaching and equipment. But they also need better research. And when it comes to aerodynamics, at the NRC we have the knowledge to help them," says Dr. Guy Larose, a senior research officer at the NRC Institute for Aerospace Research (NRC-IAR).

Larose is part of the Bluff Body Aerodynamics group of the NRC-IAR Aerodynamics Laboratory. His group studies the effect of wind on everything but planes, from cars and skidoos, to buses and trains, bridges and cables. And athletes. Recently, in preparation for the Turin Olympics, there's been a steady procession of athletes, including members of the national luge and speed skating teams, doing scientific work-outs in the NRC-IAR wind tunnels.

Congratulations to Canada's Skeleton Team who reached the podium three times during the Torino Olympic Games.
Duff Gibson, Jeff Pain and Mellisa Hollingsworth captured respectively the gold, silver and bronze medals.

The latest athletes to use the NRC-IAR 2m x 3m wind tunnel are Canada's human torpedoes, the members of the national skeleton team. Skeleton involves an athlete rocketing down an icy mountain course at 125 kilometres-per-hour on a tiny, bare-bones sled. Oh, yes, and that's head first on your stomach.

The wind tunnel is used to assess the aerodynamics of the athlete's equipment, including the sled, helmet and suit, and also his or her positioning.

"Our wind tunnel provides the same feeling of the wind as if the athlete were going 125 kilometres an hour, but they don't have to worry about falling off, so they can concentrate on the aerodynamics," says Larose.

The wind tunnel is used to assess the aerodynamics of the athlete's equipment, including the sled, helmet and suit, and also his or her positioning. For testing, the skeleton sled is placed on a specialized type of scale, called a force balance. One of the best of its kind in North America, the force balance at the NRC-IAR 2m x 3m wind tunnel is able to measure tiny differences in drag, lift and side force. With the athlete on the sled and the wind tunnel roaring, he or she can then alter individual aspects of equipment or positioning and immediately see the aerodynamic impact. For example, for body positioning tests, the drag results are projected on the floor in front of the athletes so that they can see the effect of, for example, rounding their shoulders or opening or closing their legs.

"The athletes are fascinated," says Larose. "Often what we tell them, they've felt it but they haven't been able to put it into words."

 
 
Did you know?
 
 

Did you know that NRC designed the Olympic torch for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics?

 
 

"Team NRC" rose to the challenge by combining their expertise and creativity to fashion a torch that brought together traditional and innovative elements and that used only Canadian materials.

 
 

A safe, clean and continuous fuel system, also developed by NRC, was used to light the 150 torches that needed to be carried for 18,000 kilometers during the 88-day cross-Canada torch relay.

1998 Winter Olympic Torch

 
 

The recent tests with Canada's skeleton team revealed that one type of equipment (the specifics are a team secret) had much better aerodynamic properties than other similar options. It's a fact that would never have been singled out from the myriad of factors without detailed wind tunnel testing, notes Larose.

It's this kind of technological edge that one athlete who used the NRC-IAR wind tunnel described as giving him "time in the bank". This makes it both a technological push and the added psychological element of knowing you're competing with the world's most advanced scientific know-how at your back.

Canadian speed skater Catriona LeMay Doan tested the aerodynamic qualities of six possible suits at NRC's wind tunnel prior to her gold medal performance at the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Canadian speed skater Catriona LeMay Doan tested the aerodynamic qualities of six possible suits at NRC's wind tunnel prior to her gold medal performance at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

And it's shown to make a difference. Canadian speed skater Catriona LeMay Doan tested the aerodynamic qualities of six possible suits at the NRC-IAR 2m x 3m wind tunnel prior to her gold medal performance at the Salt Lake City Olympics. In light of this success, members of the Canadian cross country ski team have also recently tested their suits in the NRC-IAR wind tunnel.


Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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