Opinion: Energy industry innovations give edge to athletes

The Winter Olympics are here, and I’d like to congratulate our three Montana athletes who will compete and represent our state and nation, as well as many other athletes with Montana connections who will be competing. The Olympics represents a unique opportunity for all nations to come together.


Ann L. Adair

Many aspects of Olympic-level competition have taken remarkable strides since the first Winter Olympics in 1924, and it is astounding to see the technology and innovation that have advanced these sports.

Our three Olympians — Darian Stevens, from Missoula, Maggie Voisin, from Whitefish and Bradley Wilson, from Butte — will don multi-directional impact protection helmets, newly designed to resist rotation during impact.

We can also be proud of a Montana State University Nordic Ski Team member, Johanna Taliharm, a native of Estonia who will be skiing for her native land. I wouldn’t be surprised if her apparel and gear are enhanced by energy industry innovations as well.

There are innovations in many Olympic sports:

  • Innovations from sports apparel manufacturer Under Armor and U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin have produced sleek, aerodynamic uniforms that will be worn by U.S. speed skaters.
  • Samsung introduced its “SmartSuit” to help speed skaters train. The Smart Suit is outfitted with data-recording sensors to help athletes and coaches analyze and improve the skater’s movement and posture.
  • Technological advances in downhill skiing include the already mentioned “Giro Avance” multi-directional impact protection helmet — which also  suffers less drag from brushes with slalom gates.
  • Safety technology innovations with airbag-equipped vests for downhill skiers feature sensors that identify racers’ movements to signal loss of control, and to inflate prior to impact.
  • The “Omega Bobsled Data Collector” — a three-dimensional acceleration sensor attached to the front of bobsleds designed by a Swiss watchmaker. This little piece of innovative genius assists bobsled teams in training to adjust their leans on turns to deliver optimal speed.
Lesser known, however, is that these new technologies depend on the powerful innovations in manufacturing that have been ushered in by a renaissance in the American energy industry, specifically natural gas and oil.

Producing the plastics, textiles, ceramics and other tech-related fibers used widely in the Olympic games are possible through natural gas and oil.  In fact, every contemporary luxury we enjoy, like smart phones, tablets, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and workout equipment rely on these fuels.

Having the Olympic flame able to burn under waves of the Great Barrier Reef, at Mount Everest, the highest peak on earth, and into outer space would not be possible without the technical innovations made to the Olympic torch. By the way, that’s a torch that was once carried by the sister of Olympic Gold Medal winner Launi Meili across southwest Montana. Heidi Meili celebrated her sister’s performance in rifle shooting at the Barcelona Games by carrying the torch.

The fact is, none of this would have been possible without innovations in energy through natural gas and oil. What was impossible years ago — a flame that burns consistently, cleanl and safely —± has now been made possible.

Imagine the future of athletic performance, technology and medicine, if we stymie their production.

I will be cheering for our U.S. athletes, along with our American innovation and freedoms this year.  I hope you will too.

Ann L. Adair is an associate professor of business  at Rocky Mountain College and president of Yellowstone Economic Associates.

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