Sochi 2014: Speedskating Suits

Long track speed skating is a race against the clock. Skaters reach speeds of roughly 50 kph, so drag has a significant impact. This is why skaters stay bent and spend straightaways–their fastest segments on the ice–with their arms pulled behind them. It’s also why their speedsuits have hoods to cover their hair. This year the U.S. speed skaters are wearing special suits designed by Under Armour and Lockheed Martin especially for their aerodynamics. The suits feature a mixture of fabrics including raised surface features on the hood and forearms. These bumps are designed to trip turbulent flow in these regions. It seems counterintuitive, but drag is actually lower for a turbulent boundary layer than a laminar one at the right Reynolds number range. This is because turbulent boundary layers are better at staying attached to non-streamlined bodies. The longer flow stays attached to the skater, the smaller the pressure difference between the air in front of the skater and the air in his wake. The suit’s seams and even its hot-rod-like flames were placed with this effect in mind. Only time will tell whether the suits really give skaters a competitive edge, but since Sochi’s low-altitude increases drag on skaters, they will appreciate some extra speed. For more, NSF has an inside look at the suit’s development. (Photo credits: Under Armour)

FYFD is exploring the fluid dynamics of the Winter Olympics. Check out previous posts on how lugers slide fast and why ice is slippery, and be sure to stay tuned for more!

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