Material Matters: 2016 Olympic Recap
For us, the real excitement around the Olympic Games is seeing the sportswear brands go head-to-head with their latest innovations, in their quest to aid athletes in grabbing that gold. Now that the 2016 Rio Olympics has wrapped up, we thought we’d take a quick look back at a few of the footwear revelations which popped up for this year’s games. Nike athletes won 70 percent of the gold in track and field, while adidas saw Boost compete for the first time and trumped the Swoosh on the stock market as the world responded. It was an exciting couple of weeks of on-foot action, so what sparked our interest most of all?
It was more than just Boost tech that had the Three Stripes talking during the games, as adidas introduced the world’s first 3D knitted track spike. The adiZero Avanti makes use of a knitting technique that sees the upper is constructed as one whole piece – as opposed to the traditional Flyknit or Primeknit, both of which are knitted flat and then closed to form a shoe. The stripes weren’t the only brand on the track with 3D knitted uppers, however, Under Armour have also been developing 3D knitted shoes with the help of Dyneema – the world’s strongest fibre. By this point in the knit-game it’s necessary for other brands to look for alternatives to flat knitting, seeing as Nike now possesses over 500 patents relating to Flyknit, there’s not much the other brands can do in that arena. Nike’s precision engineering continues to advance with unique traits woven into each and every purpose specific athletic shoe. PUMA, who aren’t quite up to speed with the big knitters, sent the world’s fastest man screaming down the track strapped into a bonded microfibre upper – allowing Bolt to run comfortably without socks.
3D manufacturing technology wasn’t limited to the uppers, we also saw a lot of 3D printing involved in the making of sole units this year. Long before adidas took over social media with their 3D printed Future Craft soles – the all-black shoe awarded to medal winning adidas athletes – Nike were playing about with their tri-dimensional printers too. Swoosh strapped sprinters have been testing polymer printed sole prototypes to find the perfect balance between stiffness and flex. Although the actual spikes seen on the track during the Olympics were made using traditional moulding techniques, the design of the base plate was fast-tracked by the instant prototyping process, allowing research and development to blaze forward. The resulting spikes keep the athlete’s foot much closer to the track, with an increase in secondary traction, meaning their foot can land and take off faster without sacrificing grip. Even Under Armour athlete Michael Phelps was sporting a pair of 3D printed Architech sneakers as he wandered from the village to the pool. While Brooks, who dominated the distance running events, utilised 3D printed elements to support the uppers of many of their distance runners.
Elsewhere, New Balance experimented with closures on the track, Trayvon Bromell sliding into their lace-less Vazee Sigma track spikes. The shoes are secured using the proprietary Boa closure, reminiscent of a side-mounted PUMA disc, which uses a knob to tighten a system of cables threaded through a forefoot canopy and heel wrap. Combined with a no-sew FantomFit upper, the upper provides even pressure across the foot, with no points of irritation.
Moving away from the sprints, Nike have been working on midsole foam techniques to enhance distance running and court shoes – debuting dual-injection soles at the Rio Olympics. The new foam combinations are created using a technique that fuses layers together with heat, rather than glue, which has made its way into the latest versions of Lunarlon and Free. ASICS found use for a similar technique, utilising dual-layered memory foam around the collars of many of their shoe to create a personalised fit.
As the track was heating up on every level, the turf tech was kicking goals in other arenas. Nike’s cleat wearing athletes were sent into action sporting new Anti-Clog Traction sole plates – developed deep down on a molecular level. The outsole features an adaptive polymer, which activates when exposed to water to prevents mud from gathering underfoot – keeping the shoe light and maintaining traction. If you want a lightweight football boot, however, you can’t get lighter than adidas’s adiZero 99g – at just 99 grams a foot. The weight loss was achieved by using a thin Polyurethane mesh upper and a 1mm thick Polyamide outsole.
Nike took their basketball shoes to new heights with the Kevin Durant’s Zoom KD 9. The shoe features the sport’s first full length Zoom Air unit, all the way from toe to heel. Upon close inspection you’ll notice the fibres that fill the air unit, these recoil on impact and then spring back for ultimate response. The Crazylight Boost 2016 provided adidas’ ultimate on court bounce, with a full length Boost sole boasting the same kind of energy return as Nike’s new fibres.
All in all, each brand that showed up at the games put in an incredible effort, we’re sure that in the long run plenty of us will benefit from their hard work. Now that the games have drawn to a close, we can look forward to Tokyo with eager anticipation, as brands begin to cook up the next wave of athletic innovation. In the mean time, let’s get strapped up in some new tech and see how it all works.
Material Matters is our weekly tech section, where we take a peek behind the mesh curtain and break down the building blocks of the industry. Recently, we’ve looked at Nike Flyknit, Nike Shox and adidas Boost Technology.