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How much aerodynamics matters in winter sports? Athletes actually go to wind tunnels

Posted February 8, 2018

Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games are about to start. Athletes are already looking around the area and getting familiar with the venues. Most of their work is actually already done in preparation for the competitions. While you may not know this, skiers perfect their posture and alpine suits in wind tunnels.

Athletes took turns standing in a wind tunnel, while the sewing machine was waiting to adjust the aerodynamic suits as needed. Image credit: University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Canada’s Winter Olympic team always does very well in winter Olympics. This time is unlikely to be different, but Canadian athletes do not sleep on their success. Preparations start long before the competition. They have to perfect their skills, strengthen their body and just train till they are confident in their abilities. However, the skiing suit athletes are wearing is important as well, because any bit of unwanted aerodynamic drag can cost a fraction of a second that is needed for the victory. Canada’s alpine ski team did a lot of homework inside the ACE Climatic Wind Tunnel at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Earning a place on the podium sometimes comes at a cost of a hundredth or even a thousandth of a second. This means that for the downhill, Super-G, slalom and other high speed competitions aerodynamics are incredibly important. Athletes train to remain composed throughout their competition and their stance is very important. However, when the difference between winning a medal and being closer to the bottom of top10 is so small, even aerodynamic drag of alpine suit and helmet matter. That is where the ACE Climatic Wind Tunnel comes in, because this facility not only can produce wind for aerodynamic testing, but is also able to deliver consistent and exacting weather conditions replicating temperature, wind and humidity.

During the testing athletes were standing in front of the fan, producing a wind of 130 km/h, which is what they will have to deal with during the competition. In fact, several members of the team dressed up in the latest skiing gear and took a stand in the wind tunnel. Computers compiled the results, but a smoke gun was also used to visualize the airflow around the athletes. Manufacturer of the alpine suit was also there, adjusting each individual alpine suit after each test. This really is that important.

Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games is a hugely exciting event, which will be a celebration of peace, sports and technology. Interestingly, even alpine ski suits are different now than they were some years ago. They used to think that the smoother the surface the better aerodynamics. But the suits they were testing in Ontario Institute of Technology are actually textured – they have dimples.


Source: Ontario Institute of Technology

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