Winter Olympics: Sports technology boosts speed skating champion at Beijing 2022

Gao Tingyu became the first Chinese male Olympic champion in speed skating when he won the 500m event at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, with an Olympic record time of 34.32 seconds, 0.33 seconds faster than his record at PyeongChang 2018.

The improvement at such a level is decisive in the game of speed. Besides the hard work of the athlete, sports technologies also play a vital role in Gao’s winning.

“In this game, speed is all we need; we must minimize as much air resistance as possible,” said Zheng Weitao, director of Key Laboratory of Sports Engineering, which is under the General Administration of Sport of China and located in Wuhan Sports University in central China, according to China Science Daily.

Working with other institutions and enterprises, Zheng’s team develops racing suits for winter sports such as speed skating, alpine skiing, bobsleigh and ski jumping.

They constructed aerodynamic models with different parameters of the body, suit and environment under different motions in various games, and reveal the source, distribution and proportion of air resistance in racing by fluid dynamics simulations, reports Xinhua.

For Gao’s suit, Zheng’s team scanned his body in typical motion positions and prepared his models in different positions at different speeds. With accurate data of Gao’s air resistance, the researchers optimized resistance reduction and carried out wind tunnel tests to determine the structure, material and style of the suit, which can cut air resistance by 5 to 10 percent.

The lab had helped athletes of windsurfing in Beijing 2008, sailing in London 2012, and speed skating in Sochi 2014, according to China Science Daily.

Besides the suit, training devices also helped Gao skate faster. In China’s National Ice and Snow Sports Training and Research Base in Beijing, an artificial intelligence motion capture system can record athletes’ movements and perform 3D motion analysis based on image deep learning technology to identify their weaknesses, China Sports Daily reported.

Aided by the system, Gao Tingyu and his coaching team had a comprehensive and accurate understanding of technical details during his start in the game. As the fastest 100-metre starter in speed skating, Gao further optimized his starting techniques in the base.

In the men’s 500m speed skating final, Gao spent 9.42 seconds to finish the first 100 metres to secure his leading position. After winning, he said he could even skate faster in the first 100 metres than he had done in the final.

Gao also improved his techniques in the curve part of the track with a help of a towing device, one of China’s home-grown technologies for speed skating training.

For speed skaters, it takes a lot of energy to go from start to high speed every time before they take a turn at the curve. They can only finish three to five rounds of training in 90 minutes.

The towing device can pull the skater by a rope to accelerate until reaching the curve. Then the skater can enter the curve at a higher speed to practice and improve the curve techniques without wasting energy on acceleration.

Using this device, the skater can finish over 10 rounds of training in 90 minutes with much higher efficiency in the base.

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