Hi-tech supports UK sport

Posted on 4 Mar 2010 by The Manufacturer

UK Sport, the country's high-performance sports agency, today revealed the technology behind bob skeleton Olympic world champion Amy Williams.

The sled used by Wiliams in her gold medal performance at the Vancouver Olympics, is the result of a four-year innovation project that involved a partnership between the University of Southampton and global aerospace and defence company, BAE Systems.

Williams, who spent more than 200 hours testing positions and assessing aerodynamics in a wind tunnel at the University of Southampton, said: “It gives you such confidence going to a major competition knowing that your equipment is world class and your preparation methods are at the cutting edge of your sport. I’m so happy and I’m so grateful to the scientists and engineers who helped me.”

Technology and engineering were fundamental in the construction of the state-of-the-art bob, nicknamed Arthur. Its adjustable were parts made bespoke to Williams’ size and helped the athlete in the steering phase. A ratchet mechanism was devised to help her set up on the sled as quickly and precisely as possible according to the different ice conditions, while an attent analysis of the finished product (that detected bending or twisting parts) made Arthur more rigid and responsive where needed.

The preparation Williams carried out entailed hundreds of hours of practice to perfect her position on the sled and her strategy. The aerodynamics assessment programme, led by Sheffield Hallam University, did the rest, helping keep the level of drag as low as possible. As a result, Williams reached over 143 km/h on the Olympic track in Whistler.

Dr Scott Drawer, head of research and innovation at UK Sport, said the development of a British sled in three years was a “massive task”, with other nations fifteen years ahead in the use of that kind of technology. “We couldn’t do this without input from our partners in industry and academia who can apply their varied knowledge and expertise to the world of high performance sport,” he said. “This was possible thanks to British people who really care about British sport.”

The sled is officially known as Blackroc, named after its co-designers Rachel Blackburn and James Roche who are both students at the University of Southampton.

BAE Systems started its five-year technology partnership with UK Sport in January 2008, providing £1.5M worth of engineering time and resources. The company’s experts and engineers have provided a considerable contribution to the development of sport equipment, not only for British Skeleton, but also for the cycling, skating, shooting and sailing teams.

Roberto Priolo