Making a big crash in 2010
With the 2010 Vancouver Olympics still over a year away, one Mount Royal instructor has already made his mark.
First covered by the Reflector in November of ’07, Sean Maw, from the MRC engineering department, and Clifton Johnston from the mechanical engineering department at the University of Calgary have been busy developing their speed skating crash pads.
The two developed a new crash pad system that will be used for two different venues (one being the 2010 Olympics) for long and short track speed skating.
The idea of new crash pads started in 2001 when Maw was working at the Olympic Oval as a researcher. The engineering faculty at the university, who were starting up a new course in design for first year engineering students, had approached him to have students make crash pads of different designs to see which one worked better.
They made a giant pendulum that would crash against a wall, which had a pad against it and they would measure how well it worked.
“That worked really well for the students,” said Maw. “It was a fun project and everyone had a lot of fun with it.”
After the class was completed, Maw said they still had the pendulum and he and Johnston started doing research about how pads function — what works well and what doesn’t. They also starting evaluating some of the pads that were being used and realized they weren’t working very well.
The ended up developing a new system intended for speed skating rinks that do not have boards.
“The Calgary Oval, the short track rink there, already has a board less system that’s from 10 or 11 years ago and it works very well,” he said. “We have developed a second generation of that system for the Vancouver Olympics.”
Currently, there is one set of pads that was designed, built and installed by Maw and Johnston at the Richmond Olympic Oval in Vancouver, where it will be used for long-track speed skating.
Two sets of short-track speed skating pads will also be developed for the games. One set is for the training venue, which is completed and has been used a couple times already for national training camps and a world cup event. The other set of pads will be installed at the competition venue, the Pacific Coliseum.
“The ones for the Olympics are fairly complicated because of figure skating and all kinds of rules,” Maw explained. For example, he said, a door has to be precisely in a certain spot.
The Vancouver system has strapping around the back to keep all the padding together and anchoring them to the ground to ensure they only move a certain distance. Maw said this model ensures a robust system that won’t fail on you and it also works in many different situations.
The main difference, Maw said, with the new system compared to the old is more research was put into the specific details.
“The basic concept of a board-less system where the pads actually move if you hit was a brilliant innovation,” he said. “We’ve done more research over the past few years to find out what kind of foam should be in the pads and in what layers to make them really work well.
“We have also paid more attention to how they are connected to each other, the venting and we’ve made doors out of pads.”
Maw helped set up the pads in Vancouver, but hasn’t seen them used in competition.
“I have hit the pads in Richmond. I was the first or second Canadian to be on the ice and I went as hard as I could and slid into the pads and they were fine,” he said.
The first time before the Olympics that Maw will see the pads in action is at a world cup event held in March that is being billed as a test for the Olympics.
However, Canada is not the only country that has asked Maw and Johnston to create crash pads for their speed skating rinks.
Salt Lake City, where the Olympics were held in 2002, heard that Maw and Johnston were developing the pads and asked that a set be made for their short-track facility.
“The ones for Salt Lake were straightforward. We worked with them for a couple days then came home and designed it and had it built and installed.”
Last year at the Salt Lake world cup, Maw said there were approximately eight or 10 serious injuries from crashes into the boards and this year there were none.
“Everyone around the world said, ‘these are great, so much better than the old systems,’ ” said Maw.
Calgary, Montreal and Quebec City will all eventually receive the new crash pads as well.
The two men also plan to go international with their design, starting with a trip to China next month to develop a system there. Maw said the Dutch have expressed interest as well.
“I have hit the pads in Richmond. I was the first or second Canadian to be on the ice and I went as hard as I could and slid into the pads and they were fine,” – Sean Maw
At the recent world junior short-track speed skating championship in Sherbrooke, Que., Maw said that many senior International Skating Union officials and referees were there who have seen or worked with the system in Vancouver and Salt Lake. He explained that many expressed feelings about the system being adopted worldwide.
“We didn’t really imagine that it would go this far, but we are really happy.”
Maw said they involved students in their projects from both Mount Royal and the U of C. Most start out as volunteers, but end up getting paid if it works out.
“The students get to see how research works,” said Maw, adding that some of the students they bring in to help are speed skaters or have been in the past. “They know something of what we are trying to do because they used to hit them.
“It might run across someone’s mind, ‘well aren’t you helping the Chinese or the Europeans?’ We don’t look at it that way. This is safety. Everybody’s better off if things are safer. The fact of the matter is the world cup people want to come to Vancouver, Salt Lake and Calgary because it is safer.”
Maw and Johnston will be featured on the Discovery Channel later this year for their crash pad system. They are also looking to make safer pads when the hockey boards are still there and plan to study what makes the best helmet for short-track speed skating.