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Default Gallery: Gadgets Boost Olympic Performance -- Legally

</img>: Photo: Associated Press/Kathy Willens Technology has helped push the boundaries of athletic achievement since the first time a caveman selected a lightweight birch branch for his spear instead of the usual heavy oaken staff. This year's Olympic Games will be no different, with swimmers, cyclists and even gymnasts making the most of tech -- and legal -- performance enhancements.
While many of the items on this list will be limited to Olympic athletes only, many others will be available for purchase by anyone, even if you don't have the cutting-edge training of Dara Torres. Just as NASA's space program led to Tang and other wonders, the innovations created for these Olympics may eventually end up somewhere in your house.
Left: Humans are too flawed for perfect swimming (not even Michael Phelps could beat a Great White in a sprint), but Speedo's LZR suit is the closest we'll get to swimming like the fishes.
Designed in conjunction with NASA scientists, the suit uses ultrasonically bonded seams (instead of stitches), low-drag panels and a mix of polyurethane layers to create the fastest suit ever, reaching previously unattainable levels of buoyancy and slipperiness.
But according to the top U.S. swimmers, the key lies in the groin. It has a rigid, girdle-style structure that positions the swimmer's body in an optimal position. That means no more hip/leg misalignments and less lower-body fatigue. It's estimated to give its wearers a two to five percent advantage, more than enough to make the difference between a bronze medal and a gold one.
Rival suit companies protested the LZR's innovations, but they couldn't come up with an adequate replacement. Even Nike is allowing its sponsored swimmers to wear it in Beijing.
</img>: Photo: Lee Vaccaro Jennie Longo is the French equivalent of Lance Armstrong -- and at 49 years old, she is still smoking the competition. Now she has two new aces in the hole: the ultra-light 8-spoke wheel (the previous lowest number of spokes was 10) and a disc wheel called the Disc Cranked Arrow.
Designed by Paul Lew Racing for ultimate flight, the 8-spoke wheel is not the most durable of wheels. Itís only designed to last the length of the course, just like Michael Johnsonís famous Nikes in the 1996 Games.
The Disc Cranked Arrow features a rim with carbon/boron fairing, and it is the world's most aerodynamic bicycle wheel, as well as the lightest, at 730 grams.
</img>: Photo: Respro Smog levels are rising in Beijing, but athletes wonít let that stand in their way. Many are planning on using air-filtering masks throughout their stay, and some are expected to use them in the events themselves.
One of the masks we'll see is the Respro Sportsta, which allows high volumes of clean air to move through the openings, and includes HEPA-type filtration (like that found in your vacuum cleaner) to strip out Beijing air's high levels of particulates, including exhaust emissions. It also comes with Powa valves (for improved airflow).
Undoubtedly, though, the best thing about it is that it will make everyone look like Sub Zero from Mortal Kombat. Fight!
</img>: Photo: Hypoxico Hypoxic tents like Altitude Training's CAT-150 push low-oxygen (hypoxic) air into the tent while an athlete rests, displacing more oxygen-rich air as well as the CO2 he or she exhales. In so doing, it stimulates the athlete's body to increase red blood cell production and pump up the delivery of oxygen to muscles.
Some have compared the feeling of running after a hypoxic session to being unleashed physically, like a controlled human helium balloon. Although theyíve been used in previous Olympics, the poor air quality of the city will likely inspire many more athletes to use these tents.
Some consider hypoxic tents to be a form of doping, primarily because not every athlete has access to them. But until the IOC disallows them -- an unlikely eventuality -- we'll continue to see athletes legally improve their blood cell counts by spending time inside tents like this one. During these Olympics, expect top cyclists David Zabriske, Mike Friedman and Kashi Leuchs to use the CAT-150 between their races.
</img>: Photo: Nike Nike's MaxSight contact lenses filter out reflections caused by the sun and enhance contrast -- details appear a bit clearer and colors pop more. Their red tint relaxes the eyes and lets them focus for longer periods of time.
The British women's field hockey team is expected to wear the lenses in order to see the field better. Because this tint is especially made for fast-moving sports with variable light conditions, the field hockey players will also pick up the rotation of a ball with greater accuracy.
Also, the intimidating look that a pair of demonic pupils has on the opposition is hard to overlook.
Sadly for non-Olympians, the manufacturers recently discontinued these lenses.
</img>: Photo: Edis Jurcys It's gotta be the shoes. Or at least thatís what Nike and Adidas want you to believe. Still, the tech used in these kicks is serious business.
Nikeís 3.19-ounce Flywire Zoom Victory Spikes use a lightweight thread called Vectran, a substance used in the balloons that helped the Lunar Rover land safely. This thread, which is tougher than Kevlar, allowed the designers to design the whole shoe without the extra padding normally needed to keep it from breaking down in a run. Since the tough Vectran ensured reliable durability all by itself, Nike removed materials that were used previously to prevent ruptures, like the inner sock liner, enabling them to make the shoe lighter.
The Flywire also sports a hole in the heel, which grips the runner's heel tightly, preventing movement.
The Adidas Lone Stars are also as light as a breeze, but with a twist: They're "bent" at an angle to take care of the long-sprint curves of the 400-meter event. The shoes, designed with input from runner Jeremy Wariner, are the first to be made with asymmetrical carbon nanotube plates and progressive-compression spikes. They're asymmetrical because in a sprint around a circular track, the left foot is used more to stabilize the body, and the right is used more for propulsion.
The carbon nanotube construction is key because it allowed Adidas to create a single-piece shoe, getting rid of the regular three-piece seams and leading to a lighter weight -- 50 percent lighter than any other shoe.
</img>: Photo: Nike These are not bulletproof vests, but if you're an athlete looking for the smallest edge, they might save your life.
As an athlete warms up to loosen the muscles, his or her core temperature also goes up. This leads to the possible danger of overheating, especially given the high temperatures expected in Beijing in August.
The answer: Lightweight vests that help keep athletes cool. They are so effective that doctors have used them for long surgery sessions, and U.S. marathoner Deena Kastor credits Nike's vest with keeping her cool in the '04 Games and helping her land a medal. Its principle is simple: Fill with water, freeze, then put it on. The new Precool vest not only improves on the 2004 model by covering a larger surface area, it also has a flexible aluminum coating that deflects the sun's rays.
The Game Ready Active Cooling Vest works a little differently, but cools down the body just the same. After it's filled with water, a cooling unit is connected into the vest, which regulates the pressure level, temperature and treatment time settings of the vest. It combines this cold water circulation with low-level compression for a specific temperature fit.
</img>: Photo: Mizuno Bat innovations are nothing new, but it seems that they're always on the verge of causing a controversy. Maple bats were the recent rage in the Major Leagues, but their thin handles caused them to break easily and fly dangerously into the stands. The Mizuno softball bat is not causing a controversy yet, but it has reached a new standard of lightness that's destined to hurt the opposition.
The Black Onyx carbon fiber RB500 has a larger-than-usual sweet spot that dominates the barrel (very nice), but it's the redesigned coiled end cap that makes it special. It allows for a lighter weight without sacrificing control and balance, helping a batter swing harder and make better last minute wrist-snapping adjustments on the ball.
Since this is expected to be the last year of softball competition in the Olympics, expect players using this bat to make an explosive statement on the field to try and bring their sport back by 2016.
</img>: Photo: Nike Dainty, yet aggressive. Minimalist, but full of technological innovations. The Nike Pidima gymnastic shoes are a contradiction in many ways, but by the end of the games, everyone will agree that that they're the next step in high-performance technology.
Why are we so high on this shoe? First consider the size. It's the smallest and lightest shoe ever at 0.35 ounces. When an athlete is sprinting into the horse (on the front part of the foot, Kerri Strug-style) that lightness will allow for better traction, faster speed and bigger jumps.
Then look at the thin aesthetic appearance and the grippy sole. The rubber is the color of flesh, so it won't stand out. That's more than a mere style point, because scoring in gymnastics is based on the way the foot is positioned relative to the body. Call attention to your foot, and you run the risk of the judges taking points away.
Also, the casing of the sole helps with pliability between the first and second metatarsals (where the foot impacts the floor), making it more comfortable than ever.
Finally, the spike patterns on the sole are multidirectional so that an athlete can switch the positions of the leg quickly while maintaining ground contact.
</img>: Photo: Newgy The Robo-Pong 2040 will play at any skill level you desire. It will play at any time you feel the need for a game. And while it cannot qualify for the Olympics, at least until organizers permit robotic contestants, it can be a valuable training partner.
This training robot is used by some of the top players to improve their games and technique, but it's also helpful for up-and-coming players. A few Chinese table tennis pros have been known to use the 2040 when they can't get to the famous Sun Park in Beijing.
Trainers can adjust the difficulty level and the speed of the ball, as well the amount of oscillation and spin that the robot puts on the ball. It even has a remote control so coaches can torture their players from afar.
</img>: Photo: Mikasa The Mikasa's designers abandoned the standard 18-panel volleyball design in favor of eight panels arranged in a petal-like formation. When combined with the new double-layered construction (of polyurethane foam and a woven inner layer made of soft micro-fiber), this new design will give players improved control by limiting the amount of sweat that seeps into the ball from their palms. That's gross, yes, but useful.
The embossing process is also supposed to lower the amount of air disturbance around the ball for a more aerodynamic trajectory. This should lead to the hardest balls ever hit this summer, though the sound may be disappointing: A few players who tested the ball complained that the Mikasa doesn't have the same satisfying pop as a traditional volleyball.
</img>: Photo: Courtesy Inition In order to make perfect strokes during training, the U.S. crew team members watch their progress on a VR-style goggle set that receives a live feed of their movements as they row. With this feed, they are able to see instantly if their torsos are misaligned. By evaluating themselves in real time, the rowers learn to perfect their form. Once the race starts, however, they'll ditch the glasses.
Originally the invention of an Australian crew team, the instantaneous video analysis system is also used to build statistical databases. The next versions will wirelessly transmit rowers' previous performances straight into their sightlines, enabling them to virtually travel into the past and race against themselves.


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