The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang are already poised to be a historic event. Both Koreas will march under a single flag in the opening ceremony and they will even have a joint ice hockey team. The Committee also added four brand new events to the games. But from our perspective, the most exciting aspect will be the sports innovation – to see what new features and incremental innovations have taken place since the last Winter Olympics.
Innovation happens in every field and industry, and that includes sport. With the Winter Olympics 2018 coming up, we have zoomed into the cold version of the Olympics to show how far innovation has taken winter sport over time.
Curling was played at the 1924 games but wasn’t an official Olympic sport until 1998. Since then it has been a staple of the winter games. An important part of the sport are the brooms (or brush heads).
The Canadian team used a new broom in 2010 which increased the temperature of the ice. This gave the team more control of the curling rocks speed and direction. Better aim lead to more points which is the point of the game. That year, the Canadian men’s curling team won a gold medal while the women’s team won the silver. These new brooms had a huge impact and are now one of the most popular brush heads in the curling.
New materials and technology gave the team the edge they needed to win. In other words, this is an excellent example of innovation in the area of… brooms.
The sport of speed skating has been around since 1676 and appeared at the first Winter Olympics. For the longest time, the skaters used a standard skate with a slightly longer blade than ice hockey players or figure skaters. The sport hardly changed for about 70 years, but then in 1996, there was a revolution when the International Skating Union allowed clap skates. A clap skate has a hinge attached to the blade under the ball of the foot. This allows for more movement and greater speed, especially in the longer events. These kinds of skates became very popular in the mid 90’s but they original patent was issued in 1894.
The effect of clap skates was apparent right away. New records were set in all speed skating events in 1998 Olympics which cemented this sports innovation for years to come.
Bobsleds were little more than recreational sleds in the past. Similar to something that a child would use on the hill behind its house on a snowy day. Although the sled could seat up to four it didn’t have composite bodies that we know today to protect the riders. That innovation came along in the 50’s when a rule change implemented a weight maximum for the team and the sled. Nowadays the sled is a technical wonder with the US team turning to BMW for a sled design for the 2014 Olympics.
But a big change for the sport wasn’t connected to the sled but rather the track. The winter games were in Innsbruck, Austria, used artificial ice for the bobsled track for the first time. The use of artificial ice and snow (first used in 1980) has made it the Winter Olympics less dependent on weather. This goes to show that sports innovation doesn’t always have a focus on equipment.
Figure skating is a graceful sport with detailed performances. Which means that it is hard for both the contestants and the judges to see or understand everything that is going on. Of course, these are two separate problems but both solutions depended on recording equipment.
Judges used instant replay for the first time in Salt Lake City in 2002. This lead to the six-point subjective judging scale to be dropped. The might not seem that important but this sports innovation lead to a new point-based judging system that decreased the chance of subjectivity and cheating.
Recently the athletes themselves have started to use recording technology. Motion sensors, high-speed cameras and 3D models make it possible to analyze movements. So the athletes watch their performance in a computer and change movements to see how they can do better.
Skiing has changed a lot in the past 100 years. It is the most popular of the winter sports and all of its varieties have been a big part of the Olympics since 1924. The skis themselves were, for the most part, the same from 1924 until the late 80’s. There were changes in materials and bindings but the shape of the skis stayed pretty much the same. But as we get to the last part of the 20th-century, developers started to play with ski designs. By using the latest technology they realized that different shapes are good for different types of skiing. Skis became shorter and more elliptical. Athletes’ preferences affected the cut of the skis, for example, if they wanted better control or more speed.
Skis are still evolving today with more efficient computer models and the sport is better for it.
Winter sports, just like all sports, evolve and change over time. The change is glaringly obvious when you compare the 1924 Winter Olympics to modern winter sports. We are poised to see some great new sports innovation in 2018 in Pyeongchang and these sports will change still more in years to come. This will ensure the safety of the athletes, break records and create a better experience for the fans. The 21st century is just starting and by its end, the changes in winter sports will be just as drastic as the last hundred years have been.
If you enjoyed this article consider reading: 3 Examples of Innovative Technologies in Sports, 4 Examples Of Innovative Technology Revolutionizing Fitness or What is Idea Management and Why is it Important?.