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Chinese Researchers Apply Aviation Tech in Winter Sports Training

As a Chinese quartet stormed to a thrilling victory in the mixed 2,000m relay at the Beijing Winter Olympics, clinching China’s first-ever gold in the relevant category, the feat can be partly attributed to aviation technologies. A crossover research team led by Ke Peng, associate professor at Beihang University in Beijing, who once studied air vehicles, has lent their hands in the training process. Ke is also the science director of China’s national speed skating team, and in 2019, his research team attempted to apply the know-how of aircraft engineering into winter sports training.

The endeavour can be traced back to a chilly morning when Ke went to a skating rink in suburban Beijing as part of his routine trip over the past year. There, Ke’s team collected data via multiple sensors based on the athletes’ movements, muscle strength and details involving the skate blades. Later it occurred to Ke that the route planning algorithm of the aircraft could also be used to help design optimal glide routes for skaters. The team of researchers worked to build digital models for skaters, which are supported by a slew of parameters like gliding routes, thrust power, balance and swerve control.

Ke pondered over some critical questions such as, “When skaters are going to swerve, should they slow down in advance or not? Should they turn a big or small curve?”, concluding that the model can offer the answers. The model is tailored for individual skaters. Inputting their heights, gliding postures, muscle energy consumption, angles of arm swings and leg kicks into the model, can produce the optimal plan for energy distribution. Thanks to the scientific training approach, a 10% increase in speed was achieved during a typical speed skating race.

Ke also brought to the skating rink his “secret weapon” — a mini turbofan engine, a type of air-breathing jet engine widely used in aircraft propulsion. The turbofan engine provides thrust to the skater who backpacks it. During training, skaters tend to slow down involuntarily when gliding at a high speed, which prevents them from grasping the skills at hypervelocity.

During an 80-meter race, the fanjet can increase the gliding speed from eight meters per second to 13 meters per second, Ke said, adding that the external boost allows skaters to grasp how to control their body at top speed. Ke’s inventions have already been used in alpine skiing, halfpipe and freestyle skiing.

“I’m proud that I can play a part in the training of our country’s athletes for the Beijing Winter Olympics, especially when I am inspired by aviation technology,” Ke said

As reported by OpenGov Asia, artificial snow is widely used at international skiing competitions, and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games has designed nine different types of snow to meet the needs of various events. Icy snow, a form of skiing snow, reduces friction on the track surface, and plays an important role in improving athletes’ performances, protecting their bodies and prolonging their sports careers. However, back in 2016, there was no qualified icy snow track in China and many domestic experts had not even heard of the concept.

China started its snow and ice research later than other countries and had little experience holding international snow and ice events, not to mention possessing related, high-end technologies. With international blockades on technologies, China could not even meet the standard parameters for snow tracks. In 2017, a technology research team focused on snow protection for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games was formally established.

Their persistence and hard work eventually paid off. The team independently built professional monitoring equipment for the icy snow track, including an icy snow hardness tester and an icy snow particle size tester. They also reduced costs by providing a green and efficient model for ski track construction. The snowmaking, snow preservation, snow storage and other snow services all meet the needs of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games now.

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