Skis like the wind
15-May-2013 12:00 AM
Australian Paralympic alpine skiers Toby Kane, Cameron Rahles-Rahbula and Mitchell Gourley know that less than a second can stand between a gold medal and a place outside the top five when it comes to a Paralympic alpine skiing race.
The trio compete in the men’s standing class, arguably the most competitive in Paralympic alpine skiing, and when just 0.48 seconds separated the three medallists in the slalom race at the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup final, it was yet another example of how one false move can lead to defeat.
To gain an edge on competitors, Australian coaches and sport scientists are now using wind tunnel testing in order to find that extra tenth of a second that holds the winning potential.
“When all the basics of athlete preparation and skill development have been covered, in very competitive classes these small improvements can mean the difference between a bronze and gold medal or being on the podium at all,” said APC Sports Science and Sports Medicine Manager, Alison Campbell.
Wind tunnel testing measures the flow and movement of air around a skier which can influence speed and direction and ultimately, results. Together with the Australian Institute of Sport and Monash University, Kane, Rahles-Rahbula and Gourley were all put to the test as a powerful fan moved air past them while they maintained their racing position.
“In alpine skiing speed events, athletes hold a static position or a tuck but in more technical events, athletes are changing position and regularly making turns to get around gates. If athletes can assume the most aerodynamic position possible in their tuck, they can reduce drag and move down the hill faster,” said Campbell.
“Equipment and clothing can also contribute significantly to drag so when equipment is custom made, such as outriggers, we need to ensure it is used as aerodynamically as possible.”
Armed with important data on their most aerodynamic position, athletes will now practice throughout the Australian domestic season before returning to the wind tunnel later this year for further pre-Games refinement.
The Australian Paralympic winter team will next compete at the IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup in Thredbo, NSW from 2-6 September.