Slip, slop and slide – Steels part in the Winter Olympics

With the close of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, it’s already being hailed as the most successful Winter Olympic Games ever and attention now passes to South Korea for the 2018 games.

Logistically, the Games are a massive undertaking, involving huge sums of money, transport, planning and engineering and couldn’t take place without our favourite material; steel. Steel is used in every element of the big engineering projects, from the hotels for the guests, the courses, the grandstands and the podiums for competitors. This is what steel does brilliantly, it’s the perfect material to be linked with major projects and the Games couldn’t take place without it.

The Olympics and Paralympics need steel, but it doesn’t just stop with the projects surrounding the Games, steel runs through the heart of the events.

As many of the sports played have evolved over many years, they’ve become more intricate and precise and steel has played its part in this. The bobsleigh, for example, started as a thrill ride down an icy road using nothing more than delivery boy’s toboggan. The sleds were made from wood and involved teams of up to six heavy people heading down a hill as fast as they can. Interestingly, this is also how the sport gained its name, as the teams would bob back and forth to try to increase speed. When bobsleigh runs were created in the half pipe style we know today (mainly to protect Swiss pedestrians), they found that using metal runners allowed for basic steering.

Today’s bobsleighs are a highly scientific endeavour, involving an aerodynamic composite body and steel runners, set at 67cms apart. The steel acts as the point of contact with the ice and can take not only the G force acting on the sled in the bends, but the lateral movement of the sled as up to 630kgs moves at 90mph.

Similarly, without steel there would have been no dramatic final event to the games, as the ice skate as we know it would not be. Originally, the skate itself was an ordinary shoe that used the leg bones of a horse, ox or deer. This utilised the triangular profile of the bones to act as a blade on the ice and a stick was used to propel the skater forward. The first metal skates were used around 200AD and was a thin strip of copper on the bottom of a leather shoe. Today’s steel ‘blades’ are not like the blade of a knife, but instead have two sharp edges that run parallel. They allow cornering and precision skating and when sharpened properly make a great difference to the agility of a skater.

This very idea was also taken in by skiers, who since the 1940’s have used steel edges on skis to stop wear during use and maintain a hard edge to allow the ski to bite into snow or ice when the skier leans.

Without steel, the Olympics and Paralympics would lack any skiing, ice hockey, bobsleigh, luge, figure or speed skating. Although we’re big fans of curling, we think the Olympics and Paralympics are much better with more than one event and are proud of the part that steel plays in all of the other events.