Faster, Higher, Stronger - Biomimicry in Sport

In pursuit of excellence, sport is increasingly looking to nature’s selective choices to fulfil the Olympic ideals of ‘faster, higher, stronger’.

The natural history author and scientist Janine Benyus, who coined the term ‘Biomimicry’ says:

“Life has been around for 3.8 billion years: with that much research and development, we’ve got 10-30 million species that are full of adaptions”.

Whilst researching sharks, Fiona Fairhurst noticed the evolved ridges (‘denticles’) on their skin significantly reduced drag. Her design of the ‘FastSkin’ swimsuit dominated the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. This year in Val D’isere she showcased a new suit for GB Snow Sport taking its dynamic from the design of a lotus leaf.

Wolfgang Reidler mimicked bamboo’s lightweight mesh structure creating mouldable, concrete panels to cover the naturally inspired ‘Calabash’ shaped stadium in Johannesburg for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

From the mimic of a woodpecker’s head creating a best-selling ice axe to racing helmets utilising the skull’s cushioning of the brain, Biomimicry is, according to Beynus, “moving us away from ‘beating, heating and treating’” to much more subtle innovation. The future? Green Chemistry – potentially water based processes that “sip” and “shave” energy produced at room temperature.

A recent harnessing of natural vortices is showing up in oar technology and producing ice is so pure it’s revolutionising skating. The ice broke speed skating records this year in Holland and will premiere on the world stage in Germany at the 2010 European Championships.

“That ice” says Beynus, “is fast”.

© Stuart Freedman