Sport meets science: a winning combination

February 15, 2018

The science of gold —
50 years, 16 sports

The NRC has worked to scientifically enhance the performance of Canada's Olympic athletes in:

  • Alpine skiing
  • Biathlon
  • Bobsleigh
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Cycling
  • Kayak
  • Luge
  • Para-alpine skiing
  • Para-cycling
  • Skeleton
  • Ski cross
  • Ski jumping
  • Snowboard
  • Speed skating — Long track
  • Speed skating — Short track
  • Wheelchair athletics

One hundredth of a second – that could be the difference between Olympic gold and silver, or not finishing on the podium.

Olympic athletes have a team of coaches and medical professionals to help them prepare to win the most prestigious medal in sport. Add science and technology to the mix and it becomes a game changer.

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has a long tradition of working with Canadian athletes to help them achieve their best in international competitive sports, including the Winter and Summer Olympics, and the Paralympics. For 50 years, NRC researchers have worked with athletes from many sports to help them test their equipment and optimize their aerodynamic positions so they are more efficient in their technique, thus making them go faster.

Dr. Annick D'Auteuil, research officer and sport aerodynamics expert, has been helping Olympic athletes hone their technique and maximize their advantage in equipment and clothing since 2005. "We have world-leading facilities and expertise in many disciplines, from aerodynamics to ice science and advanced materials, that can support high-performance testing," said D'Auteuil. "This is what makes the NRC an ideal partner."

Where it all began

Armed with the understanding of how wind affects structures like airplanes, bridges, buildings and vehicles, NRC researchers were able to use this know-how aerodynamic drag affects the performance of athletes.

The science of aerodynamics

Why turn to science? Success in many sports depends on a mix of speed and skill. "As speed increases, the athletes have to use more energy and force to push against the air," said D'Auteuil. "This is what we call the aerodynamic drag force."

Supporting many different sports

"In the lead up to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, we worked with Canada's ski jumping and bobsleigh teams, as well as Paralympians, to improve their results," said D'Auteuil. Multiple Paralympic medalist and celebrated "Man in Motion" Rick Hansen also came to the wind tunnel during this period to test the aerodynamics of his wheelchair. Branching out, NRC material scientists began to help the bobsleigh team by applying laser techniques to their bobsled runners to improve speed and reduce wear and corrosion.

Working with Own the Podium

"Our activity really ramped up when Own the Podium was created in 2005 to provide more support for Canadian athletes with the goal of winning more medals at home in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver," said D'Auteuil.

Harnessing today's technology

Today's activities take advantage of the latest advances in technology to make the process of testing equipment and technique more efficient.


Like all Canadians, the NRC research teams will be 100 percent behind Canada's Winter Olympics team as they head to PyeongChang.

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