July 31, 2012
2012 London Olympic Games athletes to lace-up in the race for gold with new shoe technology
Kinesiology researcher Darren Stefanyshyn said his role in the design of the Adidas’ new elite-level athletic shoe was heavily influenced by his research at the University of Calgary.
“In the past, it’s been kind of an evolutionary process; this time we tried what I would call a more ‘revolutionary’ process,” Stefanyshyn said. “Instead of looking at existing sprint shoes and saying, ‘what can we make better and change?’ we said, ‘let’s start from scratch and take away everything and decide what we really need for a sprint shoe.’ What is the function of the shoe? What does it need to provide and how do we actually end up doing that sort of thing.”
Years of research in the Faculty of Kinesiology’s Human Performance Lab (HPL) proved to Stefanyshyn that the Adidas Adizero Prime SP shoes had to provide traction, a landing or guiding surface and stiffness at the Metatarsophalangeal joint of the foot.
“We have strong documented evidence that by increasing the stiffness of the shoe, you can increase performance,” he said. “The problem with doing that is that you usually wind up with a much heavier shoe and it’s a trade-off between mass and stiffness. Adidas came up with carbon nano-tubes that provided a lot of stiffness, but are much lighter. They’re basically twice as stiff as a typical carbon plate, but they’re half as thick, so the mass is very, very low.”
Many of the shoe’s other innovations come from Stefanyshyn’s biomechanical analysis of what a sprinter needs. “We know from our research here in the lab that people tend to land on the lateral side of their foot when they’re sprinting and then shift over to the medial side to propel themselves,” he said. “So we came up with a landing shelf where they can transfer from the lateral side to the propulsive, medial side much faster.”
“We also looked at the traction characteristics from the start, all the way to top speed to see what the traction characteristics and requirements are and we came up with some new pin [spike] placements for these traction elements – to be able to minimize the breaking forces and maximize the propulsive force, to have a gain in net impulse when people are pushing off.”
The shoes also feature nano-composite spikes that don’t actually penetrate the track; they provide compression, which produces traction without losing energy from having the spikes pulling in and out of the track surface.
The end result is a shoe that Stefanyshyn believes is even better than he imagined, and the world’s athletes seem to agree. The first run of the elite-level shoe rapidly sold out, which is a gratifying vote of confidence for the biomechanics researcher.
“I’m lucky – I get to play on fun and exciting things,” he said. “This was a true biomechanics project: understanding the mechanics of the sprint, understanding how different athletes apply forces, how their technique influences performance and how we can modify that with a piece of equipment.”
There are 10 athletes with University of Calgary connections competing at the 2012 London Olympic Games. To follow their progress, or find an expert to comment on the science of athletic performance or Olympic history, visit www.ucalgary.ca/London2012/