High-tech gear for 2000 Olympics

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Citius, Altius, Fortius." That's the Latin Olympic motto meaning, "faster, higher, braver." Modern interpretation of the motto is "swifter, higher, stronger," expressing the athlete's goal of running faster, jumping higher, and throwing farther.

At each Olympic Games, we see more athletes reaching higher - sometimes breaking new world records. One reason for their success might be the help they're getting from science and technology.

Never before have the Olympics been so high-tech. So we thought we would give you some background on the latest gear athletes are using. This way you won't be startled when you flick on your television or computer and find that your favorite Olympians looks more like aliens than athletes.

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The Krypton Kayak and Kayak sensor goggles

Kayaking has come a long way. The first Inuit kayaks in the Arctic were made of whalebone, driftwood, and seal skin. Today's Olympians will be paddling computer-designed, lightweight kayaks made of carbon, kevlar, and fiberglass. Some sprint racers will also be wearing goggles with built in sensors.

The Dagger Krypton was designed by World Cup champion and Olympic competitor Scott Shipley and the design team at Dagger Canoe & Kayak. The boat is what they call the hottest ticket to the podium. Dagger boat designer Steve Scarborough says, they are "tuning the kayak design to the type of water and course Shipley will face in Sydney." (Shipley, right, is paddling the Kickback, the boat that led to the design of the Krypton.) In addition to cutting-edge hull design, the Krypton is supported by honeycomb-shaped fiberglass end pillars. The walls are only 0.5 inches thick but are so strong and light they add considerable life to the vulnerable ends of the slalom boat.

Slalom kayakers like Shipley won't be wearing the special goggles with built-in sensors, but some of the flat water sprint kayakers will. The goggles let athletes know their vital statistics, including heart rate and the number of strokes per minute. It's like having a dashboard for your body.

Nike swift suit: Star Trek arrives in the sports arena

In the ancient Greek games, runners donned infantry armor and sometimes carried soldiers' shields. At the 2000 Olympics, sprinters may look like they just stepped off a Star Trek set in head-to-ankle suits designed to compact and protect muscles so competitors can run even faster. The Nike suits have hoods, mesh ear holes, half gloves, and stirrups and are made of five different materials. Adidas has a similar full-body sprint suit, designed to suppress muscle vibration so athletes don't use so much energy.

Judo

A sport that incorporates combat techniques of ancient samurai warriors has just taken a giant step into the future. Newly designed contact sensors fixed into the uniform of the competitors' shoulder blades and buttocks, and impact sensors placed on a player's back, will help referees keep score.

Power sprinting

The "ultimate sprint spike" is a light-weight shoe with a carbon-fiber insert in the forefoot designed to power the sprinter off the balls of their feet. Nike's Zoom Superfly also has increased stiffness in the midfoot, allowing runners to "claw" the track. US Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson will wear the Nike Zoom.

Rowing

Rowing is an endurance sport. On average, rowers take 40 to 47 strokes per minute. If you are part of a team, it would be nice to know who isn't pulling his or her weight, wouldn't it? Well, now coaches can tell exactly how much force each competitor is exerting on the water and whether an individual's timing is off. Rowers in Sydney will use oars with sensors, enabling coaches to closely monitor the efficiency of each rower.

Bodysuits in the pool: 'Baywatch' to stopwatch

The X-files-looking track suit will also appear in the pool. The full-length suit is said to help athletes glide through water with less drag. The suit is designed to fit the natural contours of the body and increase an athlete's ability to sense change in body position, resulting in improved accuracy and efficiency in movement. Viewed as one of the most significant advances in swimwear since the '70s, it may be responsible for a number of record-breaking performances this year. But the suit is also under attack: Critics say it provides an unfair advantage in buoyancy and takes gender appeal out of the sport.

Performance running shoe

Adidas says its new Performance Plate shoe is designed to help sprinters win close competitions with a rigid carbon fiber plate that stiffens these new high-tech shoes so that the athlete's foot flexes less, increasing movement.

To join an online discussion of the new high-tech gear, visit www.csmonitor.com/monitortalk

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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