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Margin Notes

Top-secret Olympic R&D program

University researchers take part in secret program to boost the medal hopes of Canada’s Olympic athletes.


I just read the most astonishing article in the current online issue of Research Money about a “top secret” R&D program involving university researchers to boost the medal hopes of Canada’s Olympic athletes. I had to read it twice to make sure it wasn’t some sort of joke.

But no, it appears this program does exist and word is only now just starting to leak out. To whit, University of Calgary makes reference to “top secret research” in a media advisory sent out today for a press conference scheduled for tomorrow, Nov. 26. I’m assuming this is part of the same top-secret research mentioned in Research Money.

I’ll get to the Calgary announcement in a minute, but first the Research Money story (available in full here, but to subscribers only):

It’s Top Secret no more. R&D may provide Canadian athletes with the edge they need to bring home gold, silver and bronze when they take to the hills, trails, rinks and sled runs at next year’s Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in British Columbia. Over the past five years, Own the Podium 2010 – the organization charged with preparing Canadian athletes for competition – has spent $8 million on an array of small R&D projects ranging from materials engineering to kinesiology. …

The Top Secret program has been under wraps until Own the Podium CEO Dr Roger Jackson revealed its existence at a recent ACCT Canada [Alliance for Commercialization of Canadian Technologies] meeting in Victoria BC.

Described as a “collaborative research and industry engagement program”, it pulled together academic researchers from 18 institutional research groups and many industry partners to develop new types of materials for sports clothing, waxes for skis and sleds, blades for skates and various aspects of human performance.

Research Money says details of the R&D projects won’t be divulged until after the games have finished, but it appears that may not be correct. The aforementioned U of Calgary advisory says the university will unveil tomorrow “a little-known gadget” that has helped “the country’s best ski racers to train for … the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.” Until now, it says, “this project was top secret.”

The gadget is called the Sensor for the Training of Elite Athletes or, appropriately, STEALTH. It is “a GPS-based system that helps alpine skiers perfect their technique to get down a slope in the fastest and most efficient manner.”

STEALTH is described as “a partnership between the Schulich School of Engineering, Alpine Canada Alpin and Own the Podium, a winter sport technical program designed to help Canada become the number one nation in total medal count at the 2010 Winter Olympics.”

Fascinating. If anybody has further details about this program,  let us know.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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