Equipment Advances On Land And In The Water

Equipment Advances On Land And In The Water

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Most recently, Jack Bolas was the first American professional runner to win a race in bespoke spikes. Developed by New Balance, the spikes on the bottom of his specialty running shoes were custom-made using a combination of in-shoe sensors, force platforms embedded in the track, high-speed cameras, and 3-D printers.

By utilizing a variety of technologies and scientific assumptions as well as asking the athlete about the “feel”, an optimally created specially constructed tread on the bottom of their shoes can be made.

It will not be long before this technology by New Balance will be provided by more running shoe manufacturers for more and more elite runners as well as non-elite runners. While elite runners need incremental improvements to win medals and set records, the bespoke soles will also be desired by the average runner. The technology to custom-make the optimal tread based on the runner’s weight, stride length and preferred feel is available and its availability will be right around the corner.

The desire to run faster is common among both the fast and slow, the young and older. The technology and knowledge to achieve faster speeds and improved performance is forever advancing. Better nutrition, enhanced training modalities, and improved equipment are the means to get faster.

In the pool swimming world, skin-tight swimsuits introduced in the 1970s by the East Germans and bespoke swimsuits custom-made for Australian superstars Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett were examples of efforts to utilize equipment changes to achieve improved performance. While the pool swimming community gradually put brakes on certain fabrics and specific configurations, there remains an undercurrent of interest to gain the edge within the rules.

Fabric manufacturers work on the nano level to develop new materials, or coating of materials, so the swimsuit can be enhanced in some way. The manufacturers constantly explore ways to help athletes achieve their dreams of getting faster. Compression panels on high tech swimsuits, wrinkle-free silicone dome swim caps, and a wide variety of wetsuits for the triathlon community are such examples.

And the open water swimming world has not been immune to utilization of improved technologies and new equipment to help its athletes achieve their dreams. From wool suits of the era of Captain Matthew Webb to the synthetic fibers used by contemporary athletes, equipment continues to advance. Cumbersome goggles with large rubber gaskets have given way to comfortably-fitting optical and prescription goggles. Coffee, tea and brandy has given way to scientifically-formulated hydration drinks. But nothing has arguably been as beneficial to open water swimmers of the 21st century as the incredibly convenient Global Positioning System.

GPS largely takes the uncertainty out of escorting swimmers across channels, bays, seas and around islands. The talents and know-how of experienced mariners are still an absolute need, but GPS allows the pilots, crews and swimmer to have confidence that they are swimming on the optimal or particular course. With GPS, swimmers and crew can know if they are on their pre-determined rhumb line or what their position is and how far to go. These are navigational advantages that were not available to swimmers in previous centuries, especially when swimming at night, or under cloudy or foggy conditions.

But at the end of the day and the start of every open water course, GPS or not, you still gotta swim.

Photo shows Jackie Cobell battling the elements.

Copyright © 2008 – 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

Steven Munatones