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.
(TRACK AND FIELD)
The Athletics events have produced some of the most well known sports moments: Jesse Owens2 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
mixtures, combined with other plastic binders, such as polyurethane
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
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
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,
American Plastics Council www.plastics.org
Official Site of the Athens 2004
Keith Robinson, Springco Athletics
Chris Brewer, Mizuno (800) 925-4292