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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 4, 2006

High-tech ski suit protects racers

By Sandy Shore
Associated Press

Phil Shettig, director of product development for Spyder Active Sports, Inc., displays a new Olympic suit at the company's headquarters in Boulder, Colo.

JACK DEMPSEY | Associated Press

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BOULDER, Colo. When he hits Olympic slalom gates at about 50 mph in a few days, American Erik Schlopy will have extra protection in his ski suit, courtesy of some bright orange, waffle-like padding that was first whipped up in a blender.

The material, developed by English engineers and sewn into Spyder racing suits, is designed to be flexible yet stiffen on impact to protect elbows and shins as skiers roar down icy slopes.

"When you're racing and when you're training, you don't really feel that much until after when you're looking at the bruises in the mirror," Schlopy said. "I'd have to say the new pads are definitely minimizing the bruises and the blows that we get."

Companies are spending millions on research and hiring engineers specializing in aerodynamics and other sciences in hopes of gaining a product edge. The payoff comes with publicity from the Olympics, especially if the athlete is a medalist.

"If people who are wearing this product seem to be performing better, we're going to be seeing marketing like you've never seen before," said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at NPD Group Inc., a Port Washington, N.Y., market research firm. "

Some technology in apparel and equipment seems to boost performance, Cohen said, while other advancements perhaps give athletes a confidence boost.

And the technology that's tested is as broad and as wide as the imagination.

Speedo, for example, mimicked a shark's dermal denticles essentially, skin with tiny teethlike features by weaving ribbing and texture into first a swimsuit and then a triathlon outfit for recent Summer Olympics. The material, called Fastskin FSII, has been added to outfits for Olympic bobsled and skeleton athletes this winter to reduce drag yet maintain movement.