Lindsey Vonn race suit: How big an advantage at Vancouver Olympics?
Lindsey Vonn race suit: Vonn, Bode Miller, and the rest of the skiers on the USA and Canada teams are wearing an ultra-fast race suit at the Vancouver Olympics designed by Spyder, whose previous super-suit was banned for being unfair.
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But she and her USA teammates may come under scrutiny for it.
The maker of their uniforms, Colorado-based company Spyder, designed previous ultra-fast suits worn by several Americans as they won world racing titles in the 1990s. Those suits were ultimately banned because they gave an unfair advantage.
Calling to mind the Michael Phelps-Speedo swimsuit controversy from the Beijing 2008 Olympics, this year the US and Canadian ski teams are wearing so-called “slippery suits,” designed and engineered by Spyder with British design company d3o at a total estimated cost of $500,000.
“Remember the Speedo swimsuit in Beijing that garnered criticism because it allowed swimmers to be so much faster in the water?” Spyder spokesperson Hillary Procknow told CNBC. “We are hoping to create similar buzz behind the new suit Spyder spent so much time engineering.”
What’s so special about them? It’s all about the stitching.
They’re seamless, almost like a uniform of goo. The key ingredient in the uniform is a liquid known as shear thickening fluid, which is used in soldiers’ body armor. The d3o ingredient is normally soft and flexible, but it hardens upon impact, which offers protection when skiers like Bode Miller slam through the racing gates.
"By reducing pad volume by 40 percent, the suit system is more aerodynamic due to its lower profile and a lack of abrupt edges, which can ‘catch’ wind,” according to a company press release.
More importantly, the super-suit makes you faster.
“Spyder claims it could shave as much as a second off a racer’s time, a huge chunk in a sport where podium spots are often decided by hundredths,” reports the Associated Press. If Spyder's suits truly are shaving a full second off skiers' times, they can be credited for helping bring in a number of US medals.
Lindsey Vonn and US teammate Julia Mancuso took gold and silver in ladies downhill just ahead of two Austrian skiers, who both were less than 1 second behind Mancuso. In the ladies' super-G, 0.11 seconds separated bonze-medalist Vonn from fourth-place.
And in the men’s super-G, less than 1 second separated both silver-medalist Bode Miller from 18th place. Miller won gold in the combined in less than 1 second, and he won bronze in the downhill in less than one-tenth of 1 second. (Miller, for his part, says he's winning because he's skiing like a kid again.)