MARQUETTE - Padding produced by an Upper Peninsula company will be protecting skaters at the 2010 Olympic Speed Skating Trials and the 2009 World Cup Speed Skating events in Marquette later this year.
Members of the United States Olympic Education Center and Northern Michigan University's Physics Department, along with the Ironwood-based business Jacquart Fabrics Products and the vice president of United States Speed Skating, were at the Superior Dome Tuesday to test the new padding.
The USOEC had been using pads made by Jacquart in the 1980s, but the International Skating Union has come out with improved padding system standards that require the USOEC to update its equipment.
Jack Mortell, vice president of U.S. speed skating, left, and Jeff Kleinschmidt, director of the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University, examine the air vents on one of the proposed replacement pads for the U.S. Speed Skating competition at NMU later this year.
Jack Mortell, vice president of U.S. speed skating, said the new requirements stem from the incredible speeds that are being attained by today's speed skaters.
"At top end, they're right at 30 miles per hour," Mortell said. "The distance between the track and the boards is between 5 and 7 meters, and when they fall they can even accelerate on the ice, so there's a lot of danger involved."
Mortell added the USOEC wants to not only meet the ISU requirements, but exceed the standards.
David Lucas, head of NMU's Physics Department, and a handful of his students dropped a 72-pound weight that was connected to a pair of accelerometers and a computer from heights of 1, 2, 3 and 4 meters onto a pad that meets current ISU standards, and then on the new pad that the USOEC hopes will surpass the ISU requirements by 35 percent.
"There are two cubes that we're testing, and the one that gives the lower acceleration rate is performing better," Lucas said. "When the skaters fall and go into one of the pads, they'll feel less of a force on their bodies, and (the pads) should minimize injuries."
Mortell, who was at the dome to verify the tests were done, and done properly, said the safety of the athletes is of the utmost importance.
"You would hate to lose one of your Olympic team members in your Olympic trials," Mortell said. "When you look at the speed that these athletes go, the distance they travel before they hit a fixed object, that's why we need to have an improved padding system."
The new pads are designed to provide greater cushion, according to Bob Jacquart, with collapsible foam and a vented cover that allows the air to escape when force is applied to the pads.
"The new pad crushes and takes an angular blow, much like the walls at a NASCAR race," he said. "My company is trying really hard to do this for Northern as inexpensively as possible. If these pads don't meet the specifications, we'll go back to the drawing board and make another pad."
Getting the new pads is vital for the USOEC and Northern Michigan's hosting of the two speed skating events in September and November, according to USOEC Director Jeff Kleinschmidt.
"We have to have pads that meet the ISU specs," he said. "We've decided to get our own, new pads that meet the highest level of standards for cushioning effect for speed skating events."
Having the pads made in the U.P. by Jacquart Fabric Products would save the USOEC about $50,000, according to a USOEC press release.