The hollow ring of Olympic glory

Our anonymous blogger reflects on the unsung engineering heroes behind the recent Winter Olympics

It doesn’t seem like five minutes since the London Olympics and yet here we are already bidding farewell to the winter version at Sochi.

As the masses of sports men and women jetted in from around the world they will have paid little heed to the wonder of everyday high altitude transonic flight. Let alone the more ephemeral offshoots; electronics that ensure a safe journey and prompt arrival in a crowded skyway, the refinement of crude oil to high octane jet fuel, seats that are comfortable and yet which will help you survive a high g deceleration, and so on and so forth.


And what of the comforts to be found in their cold and wet environment? The roof structures that withstand the extra weight of heavy snow, the heating system and the provision of hot food and drink figure highly for a start. Safety and comfort in an essentially hostile part of the world, something that is seen these days as an absolute minimum.

What of the hard won experience that allows this, years of applied mathematical refinement proven through experimentation and research? I suspect like most people these days they will hold such things as an unconscious expectation.

Then of course we come to the games themselves. Light, low friction skies heavily dependent on cutting edge materials technology help speed a polymer clad athlete downhill at thrillingly insane speeds. Little protection against disaster bar the highly engineered helmet and ski boots giving the maximum chance of survival for the minimum of weight and hindrance.

Likewise skating, the skeleton and so on but perhaps the bobsleigh is our – the engineer’s – most conspicuous contribution. A rugged structure clad with a supremely aerodynamic body carrying four people down an ice chute at over 70 MPH. It has to be steerable, to stop at the bottom and to be as safe as it is possible for such a device ever to be.

The crew are strong, highly trained powerhouses of course and that means that the vehicle doesn’t only have to withstand the forces on the run itself, but also their unbalanced impetus fed through the handles at the start as it is pushed off from the line. This being followed by them leaping aboard in an ordered but, shall we say, “robust” manner!

All of this we have given the world and all of this is what is expected. The quiet achievement of the everyday exceptional that totally envelopes and cossets the individuals striving for personal glory once every four years. However ask any member of the general public what aspect of the games was influenced by engineers and I’ll bet they say “the snowflake failing to turn into an Olympic ring during the opening ceremony.” I suspect the problem is we’re too good, we just make it all look too easy!