Sunday, September 12, 2010

V-Link and electronic speed training

By Seth Masia

VLink, a high-tech device invented by Hewlett-Packard scientist Richard Kirby, is now in use by the U.S. Ski Team to improve the carving precision of world class athletes and Development Team trainees. The chip, attached to the ski behind the binding, uses three microminiaturized optical tracking circuits to record movement through space in three dimensions and three axes. In training mode, the VLink transmits an audio signal to a set of earbuds, telling the skier about any sideways drift, to a precision of half a millimeter. VLink records data 6500 times per second, and is accurate to 70 miles per hour.

Bill Johnson at Sarajevo, 1984 (Sports Illustrated photo)
By looking at the graphic readout, a racer and coach can see where in the course of the turn the ski is skidding or slipping enough to cost speed.

This development reminds me that back in the ‘80s some of the national teams used downhill training skis equipped with pressure-sensing transducers above the steel edges. If a racer could equalize the pressure on the two edges of each ski, it meant that he was riding a perfectly flat ski and the theory at the time was that this was the way to maximize glide speed. Bill Johnson's string of downill victories in 1984 -- including the Olympic gold medal -- was thought at the time to be due to his talent for riding a "loose" flat ski.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who can tell us more about the transducer-equipped skis. If you were a racer or coach who used them, or if you were a tech working with the skis, please give us more detail on how they worked and whether they were effective in improving glide speed.

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