Throughout our 125 years of existence, we’ve always enjoyed collaborating with others to imagine and create a better future for athletes and for the world of sport. A crucial part of optimizing competitive athletic performance comes down to having the best materials and innovations in equipment – it truly can make the difference between winning or losing for an athlete. It may feel odd to talk about innovation for winter sports in June, but this is in fact a crucial time where many innovations are being developed and tested.
In 2007, Dow became the Official Technical Partner of USA Luge when America’s fastest sliders decided they wanted to get even faster. Over the years, the team has turned to our materials science and engineering expertise to help them enhance various elements of their technique through R&D innovations and mitigate certain technical challenges that were holding the team back from achieving higher speeds on the track. One of the most recent developments drew in multiple Dow collaborators to achieve the creation of customized, durable padding that optimizes in-sled comfort for USA Luge sliders.
“We have a saying in the sport that comfort is key… Any little tension in the body that you don’t need is going to slow you down.”
– Jon Owen, USA Luge Technical Programs Manager
Comfort is key in a variety of settings. Mattresses, seating, blankets and pillows, for example, all require certain levels of it to be successful at their jobs. For luge sliders, this same dynamic is true. Lying down and navigating the track while feeling even the slightest discomfort in their sled can sacrifice crucial milliseconds for a USA slider when they’re competing in the most difficult races in the world.
Recognizing the need for comfort and performance enhancement, the team began inserting yoga mats into their sled pods. While this helped the team temporarily, the mats’ lack of customized comfort and durability led the team to seek out an advanced solution with the help of Dow’s materials science.
“Whether it’s to be fast asleep or fast down the track, ComfortScience™ is how to get long lasting support.”
– Jacob Jackson, ComfortScience™ Senior Product Marketing Manager
We have a team that focuses on exactly that: optimizing comfort for a variety of applications. With a specialty in bedding materials innovation, Dow’s ComfortScience™ team offered their expertise to help solve part of the puzzle. Their experience developing mattresses and pillows for ideal sleep and the testing capabilities they offer through their ComfortScience™ Studio were a key in helping USA Luge find a comfortable padding technology suitable for their unique, active environment. With measurement tools such as the Studio’s Xsensor technology, Dow scientists were able to monitor the sliders’ in-sled pressure points, informing where and how the final product would need to be customized for ideal comfort.
Athletes want to be able to rely on a consistent comfort level, therefore durability is a key requirement as well. In the search for a high performance material that would last through repetitive rounds of sliding practice and competition, Dow Polyurethanes’ customer Rogers Corporation brought their padding technology to the table. Equipped with the ComfortScience™ team’s Xsensor data, they analyzed their products, selected multiple pads that could withstand the necessary pressure levels and recommended them to Dow. After further testing, Rogers Corporation’s silicone-based pads were found to be a strong solution for the challenges presented by luge’s specific performance conditions, leading Dow to conduct more analysis on those pads’ durability levels. This next step of strength evaluation was enabled by the abrasion testing that Rogers Corporation completed on the pads and shared with Dow, and it informed our recommendations to USA Luge regarding which padding materials they should test on-track with the sliders.
After rounds of evaluations and the addition of pressure-sensitive adhesives to ensure the pads’ stability amidst the sliders’ movement, USA Luge was able to adopt this collaborative development for use in multiple competitions, including World Championships as well as the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.