Engineering the Olympics

There was plenty of engineering know-how on display in Tokyo as well.

There was plenty of engineering know-how on display in Tokyo as well.

Summer is winding down as we put this issue together, and like many people I spent a big chunk of August watching the Summer Olympic games. Here in Ohio we were particularly thrilled to see Clevelander Katie Nageotte take gold in the pole vault, and cheered on other medalists with Ohio ties like Joe Kovacs (shot put), Duke Ragan (boxing), David Taylor and Kyle Snyder (wrestling), Oshae Jones (boxing), Hunter Armstrong (swimming), and others. 

 

It was an unusual Olympics with no spectators and COVID protocols in place. There were the usual moments of drama and weirdness (horse punching?), but also plenty of amazing performances from Italian runners, U.S. gymnasts and many others, along with inspirational performances. How about Dutch runner Sifan Hassan, who won the women’s 1,500 after she fell down? The men’s high jump winners who decided to share the gold? Or 46-year-old gymnast Oksana Chusovitina putting us all to shame, competing in her eighth Olympic Games?

There was also plenty of engineering know-how on display in Tokyo as well. All 89 Olympic ceremony podiums were 3D printed this year (from 24 tons of recycled plastic waste); some of the competitors in the air pistol competition relied on a 3D-printed pistol grip.

A few British riders in the cycling events used Hope HB.T bikes that were specially engineered for performance, including a wider fork design, components customized for individual riders, and a seatstay with a noticeably wider stance. Portions of the bikers were also 3D printed with titanium. Hyundai had a hand in designing technology that aided the Korean archery team (which swept gold in those events). 

All 89 Olympic ceremony podiums were 3D printed this year (from 24 tons of recycled plastic waste), while some of the competitors in the air pistol competition relied on a 3D-printed pistol grip.

— Brian Albright, Editorial Director

Track records fell left and right at this year’s games, in part because of the track surface designed by Italian company Mondo. The track included a semi-vulcanized rubber granule surface, with a honeycomb backing that could compress in all directions, returning plenty of energy back to the runners’ feet. 

One of the most fascinating stories about Olympic engineering feats came from China. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. helped train the country’s swimming team using facilities and technology normally associated with the development of ballistic missiles. Swimmers were able to take advantage of an inertial navigation system, aerospace measurement equipment, and simulated training and data analysis. Outfitted with sensors, the swimmers actually simulated swimming in a wind tunnel, which allowed scientists to calculate the precise drag of each movement. 

With the games over, I am looking ahead to an autumn that will hopefully see my kids back in school, and better news on the COVID-19 front. We are also planning for the upcoming Digital Engineering Design & Simulation Summit, which will feature a keynote panel on digital twin technology, as well as contributions from our partners at the ASSESS Initiative, our own crew of contributors, and other leading technology experts. You can find out more here.

After that, it will be time to get ready for the Olympics again, with the winter games starting in just six months.

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About the Author

Brian Albright's avatar
Brian Albright

Brian Albright is the editorial director of Digital Engineering. Contact him at [email protected].

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