Composites aid athletes in 2012 Olympic Summer Games

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games, taking place in London, from July 27 to August 12, will feature 302 competitive events in 26 sports. The Olympic sports today are much different than they were in Greece in 8th century B.C., thanks in part to the advances in material sports equipment technology. Athletes from around the world are able to push harder, go longer and set new records. Here are just a few ways you’ll see composites:

Track and Field

Pole Vault: (8/4 – 8/10)

The U.S. Olympic pole vaulting team uses tall (10 to 17.5 feet long) fiberglass and carbon fiber flexible poles to jump nearly 20 feet in the air. Manufacturers use e-glass or s-glass, then add different fibers (often carbon) to give the poles unique characteristics. The crossbars, which are used to measure the distance jumped, in both the pole vault and the high jump events, are pultruded fiberglass rods.

Javelin: (8/7 – 8/11)

Olympic javelin tips must be made of wood or metal. Some companies are coating metal alloys with carbon fiber to reduce vibration. Many new javelins are replacing wood with carbon fiber shafts.

Discus: (Women 8/3 – 8/4, Men 8/6 – 8/7)

In ancient Greece, the discus was likely made from stone or metals. Today, competitive discuses are made of rubber, wood or composites. The materials used in the manufacture of the discus are important as they balance the weight distribution. Many experienced discus throwers use fiberglass or carbon fiber side plates.

Archery (7/27 – 8/3)

Bows:

The only bow permitted for the Olympic archery event is the modern recurve bow. The recurve bow uses carbon fiber and occasionally fiberglass in several parts, including the riser (the handle) and the flexible planks above and below the riser, also known as limbs.

Arrows:

Olympic archers typically use aluminum or carbon fiber arrows. Most competitors use carbon fiber arrows, typically manufactured using pultrusion, which can cost approximately $1,000 each.

Gymnastics Parallel

Bars: (8/7)

The parallel bars is a men’s only event. Originally the bars were made from wood. To limit the number of splinters, and to increase durability, most bars are now made from FRP composites. The construction of these bars is imperative to the gymnastics routine. U.S. competitor Sam Mikulak secured his 2012 Olympics bid on parallel bars, despite the fact the bars were not secured to the steel frame, which hindered his performance and emphasized the benefits of composites.

Uneven Bars: (8/6)

The uneven bars is a women’s only gymnastics event, which developed into the modern uneven bars after the first World Championship for women’s gymnastics in 1934 introduced asymmetrical adjusting of the traditional men’s parallel bars. Similar to the parallel bars, the original uneven bars were made from wood bars and a steel frame. The 2012 Olympics in London announced they are using fiberglass uneven bars with a wooden veneer. The two bars sit on a metal frame.

Field Hockey (7/29-8/11)

The most critical piece of gear for a field hockey player is the stick. An athlete needs one that is light-weight and provides power, both of which a composite stick made of fiberglass, carbon, aramid and Kevlar allow. A higher amount of carbon gives rigidity and power whereas fiberglass ensures flexibility and ball control. Expect to see a mix of each as you watch the men’s and women’s teams compete – in particular as you cheer on the Women’s U.S. team, favored to take the gold after winning the 2011 Pan Am Games.