Olympians are using the unique properties of graphene to gain a competitive edge at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. When Annemiek van Vleuten of the Dutch Cycling Team grabbed the gold medal in the Individual Time Trial (ITT) at the Tokyo Olympics, having already claimed silver in the women's road race, it wasn't just Dutch cycling fans who were elated. Materials scientists also celebrated that a sportsperson in graphene-enhanced sportswear had claimed another medal.
The Netherlands national cycling team was wearing graphene-based shirts which employ Thermal Planar Circuit (TPC) technology designed by Directa Plus¹ — worldwide producers and suppliers of graphene nanoplatelets. The high-performance shirt printed with the company's sustainable G+ graphene can absorb heat produced by the body and distribute it through its material. The shirt then dissipates this heat to the surrounding environment.
However, this isn't the only Olympic gold won with a bit of graphene assistance during the 2020 summer Olympics. Teenager Kim Je-deok won two gold medals for the South Korean men's archery team. The 17-year-old used a graphene-enhanced bow to hit gold in both the mixed team and the men's archery competitions.
The bow was designed by Win&Win² and is sold as part of the WIAWIS brand. The company's graphene bow is reported to be 60% more durable than carbon nanotube alternatives and 20% more shock absorbing. This means the bows retain the ability to return to their original shape after repeated extreme bending.
Win&Win isn't just supplying equipment for Olympians in archery, however. Seven competitors, including Korean national track cyclist Lee Hye-jin, are riding Win&Win graphene cycles.
Graphene-Based Sports Gear is Racing Ahead
Graphene has become the gold standard in modern technology because of its unique strength, flexibility, electrical and thermal conductivity, and lightweight nature. These properties derive from the fact that graphene sheets are single-atom-thick sheets of carbon arranged into a honeycomb-like pattern.
This space-age material has had a significant impact in a range of applications as diverse as batteries, wearable electronics, and even fashion, so it's probably not much of a surprise that sports equipment designers are getting in on this revolution in materials science.
The aim of sports equipment has always been to withstand heavy usage, high velocities, violent impacts, wear and tear, and constant motion from the human body. These demands are amplified when it comes to uses in rough terrain and extreme temperatures.
The fact that graphene has provided strength and durability without compromising on wearability has made it ideal for sportswear, with manufacturers of footwear perhaps leading the way in the utilization of graphene.
In fact, other Winter Games Olympians probably wonder what took so long for their Summer games colleagues to catch up on this wonder material and start sporting graphene-based kit?
Graphene Usage at the Winter Olympics
The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was a key proving ground for graphene-based sports equipment. A skeleton sled created by Versarien PLC³ and Bromley Technologies Ltd⁴, both from the UK, carried British Olympian Dominic Parsons to a bronze medal in the men's skeleton event.
The X22 sled was created by Dr. Kristan Bromley, who happens to be a former skeleton World Champion and an Olympian herself, using a graphene-enhanced composite material developed by Versarien. The graphene composite allowed Bromly to specifically tailor the sled to Parsons' body size and riding style, a level of personalization not possible with 'traditional' materials.
Skeleton sledding isn't the only winter sport that has benefitted from graphene-based equipment. American tennis racket brand Head has an exclusive license to use graphene in the manufacture of skis and ski boots. The sports gear giant learned about the impressive capabilities of graphene while manufacturing tennis rackets with extraordinary resilience and flexibility, expanding this to another sport.
The company's Supershape ski range uses graphene at the center of skis to reduce thickness without compromising on strength. This allows materials to be shifted to the ends and edges of the skis, something that increases edge engagement and enables rapid edge-to-edge switching.
Head's ski boots take advantage of graphene in an arguably simpler, albeit just as effective, way, namely in making the boot lighter than alternatives made with other materials. The reduction in weight allows skiers to change direction with less energy, allowing them to ski faster and for longer.
Of course, performance is a vital aspect to consider when selecting sporting gear, but it's arguably not the primary concern. Fortunately, graphene can also improve the safety of our sportspeople. Protection that extends beyond the Olympics to a wide range of activities.
Beyond the Olympics: How Graphene Made its Way into a Variety of Sports
One of the most important conversations currently being held around sports is the dangers that arise from concussions. Catlike6 is a manufacturer looking at graphene for its application in helmets. The Spanish sports company uses nanofiber rolls of graphene in its Mixino helmet to provide impact protection and durability with comprising on weight.
Additionally, the helmet is stronger than helmets made with a polycarbonate roll cage and provides better ventilation due to the material's unique heat conduction capabilities.
Not all sports injuries result from high-impact collisions, of course. Manufacturers have also drafted in graphene to help sportspeople mitigate the risk of training injuries. For example, Deewaer7 — an Italian-based sportswear company — uses graphene to redistribute heat from warmer areas of athletes' bodies to colder regions.
This helps preserve energy and increase performance while the lightweight fabric helps muscle performance, helping correct posture. This is something that allows training athletes to avoid muscle-strain-related injury, the company says.
As even more progress is made with this wonder material and it becomes even more ubiquitous, by the 2023 Brisbane Olympics, more athletes than ever before will be relying on its remarkable properties.
1. Directa Plus, [https://www.directa-plus.com/]
2. Win&Win, [http://www.wiawis.com/rbow.php?ct=rb]
3. Versarien PLC, [http://www.versarien.com/]
4. Bromley Technologies Ltd, [https://amptechnologycentre.co.uk/tenants/bromley-technologies/]
5. Skis and Ski Boots, Head, [https://www.head.com/en_US/ski.html]
6. Catlike, [https://www.catlike.es/]
7. Deewear, [https://www.dnb.com/business-directory/company-profiles.deewear_srl.d5686060e509754fdf46749cd9bb2394.html]