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Real 'cool' gear fights off heat
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-12 05:51

That is how sportswear manufacturers describe their latest suits designed to help Olympic competitors fight the summer heat in Athens.

Expect to hear a lot this month about built-in evaporation systems, personal air conditioning and strategically-placed ventilation as the world's leading brands explain how their latest technologies give athletes that crucial edge.

"The main challenge for Olympic athletes will be keeping cool and in Athens's heat the body's main mechanism is sweat evaporation," said George Havenith, a Loughborough University researcher who advised Adidas on their new ClimaCool range.

"The closer to your skin sweat evaporates, the bigger the advantage - and that's where the right clothing can help."

ClimaCool is made from four fabrics designed for different parts of the body depending on how much sweat or heat is produced there, said James Lamont, head of the company's clothing innovation team.

"A lot of sweat is produced in the chest area, so we use a three-dimensional fabric there to aid evaporation by letting air flow near the skin," Lamont said.

The suit also includes conductive cooling tape behind the neck where heat is given off, and a panel of fabric sewn in to act as a "chimney" channelling air down the back - one of the body's sweatiest areas.

Vacuum cooling

Scientists have found other ways to help athletes cope before and after their events.

Nike is providing pre-cool jackets, vests filled with 12 cooled gel packs that can be worn for an hour before competing, and uniforms with ventilation panels.

"If you apply pre-cooling your body temperature will be lower to start with but rise at the same rate," Havenith said.

"The big debate is how that cooling would affect muscle performance. There's some research which shows that muscle can perform quite well at lower temperatures, so the pre-cooling doesn't seem to have a negative effect."

Three teams - Britain, United States and China - also have the use of CoreControl, a product designed by US company Avacore Technologies and normally used to help workers cool quickly when their body temperature gets dangerously high.

"It looks like a coffee pot with a beer can in it, which you grip," said Avacore Chief Executive Ron Piasecki.

"We get as much blood into the hand as possible by creating a slight vacuum, and then hit it with the lowest temperature we can without causing vascular constriction - about 22 degrees Celsius."

This technique can pull an athlete's core temperature down in just a few minutes, and can be used to help athletes to refresh between competitions in events such as the decathlon, as well as to develop heat tolerance during training.

"It's the third best way of cooling the body, after full immersion in ice water and injecting a cool saline solution," Piasecki added.

Traditional methods

The Dutch rowing team are placing their trust in a new kit developed by DSM and the Dutch Institute of Applied Research which disperses body heat by allowing sweat to evaporate more efficiently, and also reflects the sun's rays.

The uniform will cover more of the rower's body than normal suits and the developers say it can improve performance by up to three per cent.

Away from the marketing hoopla, however, some say traditional methods are the best way to beat the heat.

"The main advantage of the new clothes is psychological," said David Reid, high-performance manager for the Northern Ireland Athletic Federation.

"If a scientist comes up with something and says 'these things will keep you cool,' you want to believe it. We can prove that the clothes will have a tiny positive effect, but it's not the product, it's the idea."

Some athletes will combat temperatures of 40 degrees C plus by dunking their hands in iced water just before competing.

Many teams have tried to reduce the shock of the Athens heat by training in similar conditions at home - Canadian athletes have swallowed pills containing a tiny thermometer and transmitter to check their core temperatures.

Australia's women's hockey team have lifted weights in a heat chamber over the past month while the British equestrian team have worn thick jackets and wrapped their horses in blankets during training to get used to the expected conditions.

"It is not overstating the case to say that (in Athens) it is potentially fatal to exercise as hard as you need to win an event," Australian team doctor Peter Fricker said.

Everyone agrees, however, that athletes have no excuses not to be ready for high temperatures.

"The best advice is the old-fashioned: Drink fluids and stay in the shade. It's not much more complicated than that," Reid said.

(China Daily 08/12/2004 page15)





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