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How Olympic outfits give athletes an edge

The skin-tight, sometimes garish outfits worn by many Olympic athletes are designed to do more than distract their competitors. CBC science columnist Torah Kachur explains how their high-tech design can give someone an edge over the competition.

Golf balls, shark skin inspire high-tech textiles

Sven Kramer of the Netherlands skates during the men's 10,000-metre race at the World Cup in Astana, Kazakhstan. Speedskaters have special slippery patches on the legs of their outfits to reduce friction when their legs touch as they go around corners. (Alexei Filippov/The Associated Press)

The skin-tight, sometimes garish outfits worn by many Olympic athletes are designed to do more than distract their competitors.

CBC science columnist Torah Kachur

There's a significant amount of science and high-tech design woven into that clothing to give athletes an edge over their competition, CBC science columnist Torah Kachur explains.

These designs can vary according to the unique demands of each sport, she told CBC Radio's Airplay.

For example, to give an edge to speedskaters whose legs touch as they go around corners, "they've actually made superslick surfaces in that area," she said.

Kachur looks at  the different kinds of drag faced by sports such as speedskating compared with extremely high-speed sports such as downhill skiing, and explains why drag is sometimes "literally sucking you backwards" and how golf balls and shark skin have inspired high-performance Olympic clothing.