A UK Sport-led project designed to maximise the chances of medal success at this year’s Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in the sliding sport of bob skeleton has been recognised at The Engineer magazine’s fourth Technology & Innovation Awards by winning the ‘Sports Technology’ category in its inaugural year.
The awards acknowledged engineering excellence emanating from collaborative engineering projects in ten categories. The winning project in the 'Sports Technology' category involved a novel approach to developing bespoke sleds for the British Skeleton team, led by UK Sport’s Research and Innovation team in partnership with British Skeleton performance staff, which was delivered by key partners BAE Systems, the University of Southampton and Sheffield Hallam University.
The project famously contributed to skeleton slider Amy Williams’ success in Vancouver earlier this year, where she became the first British individual Winter Olympic gold medalist in 30 years, but British Skeleton has now provided the sleds to the majority of the athletes on the programme, to benefit the Talent and Development Squad athletes on their pathway to achieving Podium success in the future and especially at the next Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.
The foundations for the project were laid by British Skeleton’s Performance Director, Andreas Schmid, who said: "“Nearly three years ago I was convinced we could produce something special with this unique opportunity in our sport. Although there was not much time left for the Games it was incredible to see our ideas and vision for sled technology growing in the hands of two hard working and committed individuals, Rachel Blackburn and James Roche.
"Together with the support of UK Sport and its partners, what we achieved in this time was incredible, exceptional and undoubtedly played a huge role in the success of our program. Now we have a platform to move forwards and I’m pleased to see how all this work is being recognized outside of our sport and within industry.”
UK Sport’s Head of Research and Innovation, Dr Scott Drawer, said: “Our job is to help British athletes be among the best prepared, and most feared, by their competitors when they reach the start line. We couldn’t do this without collaboration with our partners in industry and academia who can apply their varied knowledge and expertise to the increasingly sophisticated world of high performance sport. This project was a fantastic example of what can be achieved through this approach and I’m delighted that the excellence demonstrated by our partners in delivering this project has been recognised in this way.”
While Amy’s was affectionately known as ‘Arthur’, the sled project was known by its codename ‘Blackroc’ after its co-designers, University of Southampton students Rachel Blackburn and James Roche. Stephen Turnock, from the University of Southampton's Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, Rachel and James’ PhD supervisor, says: “This project illustrated the vital importance of partnerships between academia and industry as well as quite how capable our University engineering graduates are at delivering engineering solutions that are at the leading edge of design and innovation.”
The sled was manufactured by engineers at BAE Systems’ Advanced Technology Centres in Great Baddow and Bristol. Owen Evans, Manager of BAE Systems’ technology partnership with UK Sport, said: "We are absolutely thrilled project Blackroc has received such a prestigious award in the UK. This project represents many years of hard work and collaboration with Southampton and Sheffield Hallam Universities in designing, manufacturing and delivering a bobsled that was uniquely tailored to Amy William's sliding style. Winning The Engineer award gives the whole BAE Systems team a great sense of satisfaction, and to know we played a part in delivering British medal success is just incredible."
Professor Steve Haake, Director of the Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University, who also supported the project, said: "The project was not an easy one, involving everything from design and aerodynamics to their application in sub-zero temperatures at the side of a bobsleigh track. We were delighted to be involved and congratulations to Amy!"
Amy Williams said: "It's about time that the misconception of skeleton sleds being like tea-trays was put right! After the Olympics, the press naturally latched onto the 'Amy bonds with Arthur' story, which is true but this makes light of the serious work involved in fine-tuning a human-machine interface to achieve optimum performance. Without the brilliant engineering work on the Blackroc Project, my athletic achievement would not have been possible."