Did you know…?

Women's sports debuting at 2000 Olympics included two Athletics events - the pole vault and the hammer throw.

Trine Hattestad of Norway set an Olympic record at javelin throw (68.91) at 2000 Games in Sydney. The U.S. team won men's relay 4x100 m. The other track and field records went to athletes from Ethiopia, Algeria and Russia. Click here for a complete listing of 2000 Olympic results.

The Athletics events have produced some of the most well known sports moments: Jesse Owens
2 winning four gold medals in 1936; Carl Lewis3 matching that record in 1984; and Gail Devers4 overcoming serious illness to become the "World's Fastest Woman" in 1992. Athletics is comprised of track events: sprinting, hurdling, middle- and long-distance running, relays and the steeplechase; and field events: high, triple and long jumps, pole vault, javelin throw, shot put, discus, and hammer throw. Although these sports embody the true spirit of ancient competition, this year's games will showcase 21st century contests that have become even more extraordinary through the use of plastics.

  • Modern track surfaces can be constructed from many materials, all of which are forms of plastic. Natural materials, such as cinder and clay, were common track surfaces in competition up to the 1960s. Tracks made from these materials required constant maintenance and were unable to withstand the natural challenges posed by the weather. Plastics changed all this. "All-weather" tracks, made from a composite of synthetic rubber and asphalt, became popular in the 1960s. Although they required less upkeep than natural surface tracks, they became too soft in hot weather and too hard in the cold.
  • Innovations in tracks have compensated for these shortcomings. Modern track surfaces use a mix of plastic rubbers, made from styrene-butadine or ethylene-propylene mixtures, combined with other plastic binders, such as polyurethane or latex, or with solid polyurethane, which is then glued to the floor like carpet. According to the United States Court and Track Builders Association, most world-class tracks are made with polyurethane, and over 95 percent of all tracks worldwide employ a combination of plastic materials.

The new plastic-based track surfaces are able to withstand adverse weather and UV light, and are easier to maintain than their natural surface counterparts. The tracks are also better for the runner, since plastic component tracks offer excellent rebound qualities that return more energy to the foot, permitting athletes to reach greater speeds than is possible on asphalt.

The plastic blend surfaces have changed the sport more than anything," says Keith Robinson of Springco Athletics, a track and field manufacturer. "The surface has added to the performance of the runner, making them faster."

  • Running shoes use plastics to increase shock absorption, stability, and cushioning. Plastics did not replace any materials in new running shoes, but rather have been a significant addition. The shoes last longer and keep their shape with repeated use. Most plastics in track shoes are used in the midsole in the form of impact-absorbing foam. Nylon and other heavy-duty plastics are added for resiliency.

Due to the improvements in running shoes brought about largely by the use of plastics, athletes can now run faster, jump higher and compete with less pain in the feet, ankles and knees. "Plastics are a definite performance-enhancing material," says Chris Brewer, marketing manager for Mizuno, a running shoe and athletic equipment manufacturer.

  • Pole-vaulting has completely changed due to the use of plastics, in both the actual vault and the landing, which cushions the athlete's fall. Poles were once made from bamboo, a material that is naturally long and straight. Later poles were made from steel or aluminum pipe, but were not ideal because of their lack of flexibility.

Today the poles are constructed from fiberglass and other plastics. Plastic gives the pole the strength and flexibility it needs, giving the athlete a shallower angle - a detail that can increase the height of a competitor's vault. Without this flexibility, the athlete would act as a pendulum. A competitor would have to travel 40 miles per hour to reach modern pole vault heights with the old, rigid pole. With a plastic pole, the speed is loaded into the pole, allowing the athlete to achieve much greater heights at the same speed. These innovations have allowed modern pole-vaulters to reach heights of up to 19 feet (5.79 meters), with the best competitors flirting with 20 feet.

As pole-vaulters are able to vault higher and higher, the need for a safe landing becomes more important. Sand landing pits have been replaced by mats constructed from thick, absorbent polyurethane plastic foam and covered with PVC plastic on a thick vinyl base. The polyurethane absorbs energy from the landing, and helps the athlete to land safely.

  • High jump mats are made from absorbent plastic foam, usually urethane, with plastic rubber.
  • Hurdles are now crafted from plastic, replacing wood as the material of choice. If a hurdler was off even slightly during a jump, a wooden hurdle board could easily break or splinter, causing damage to both the runner and the hurdle. "When hurdler's hit wood, it is not very forgiving. Ankles, knees and legs would get hurt very badly…hurdles made from plastic board will give and recoil upon impact," says Robinson.

Today's lightweight, durable plastic hurdle boards are easier on runners than wood, and won't splinter or break into jagged pieces if hit or knocked over. Plastic not only helps prevent injury to the athlete, but allows for the hurdle to be re-used.

  • Discs and batons are increasingly made from fiberglass and molded plastics. These materials are preferred because they are lighter and are especially valuable for training athletes. In the discus, a steel rim with plastic construction gives the disc more weight on the outside, creating optimum centrifugal force, allowing the discus to fly farther.

"The plastic blend surfaces have changed the sport more than anything. The surface has added to the performance of the runner, making them faster." Keith Robinson, Sales Manager, Springco Athletics.

American Plastics Council • www.plastics.org

Official Site of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games







Keith Robinson, Springco Athletics (800) 383-0305

Chris Brewer, Mizuno (800) 925-4292


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