icehat2When it comes gaining an edge in sports, athletes stop at no end in order to run a little faster, hit a little harder, and jump a little higher. No matter the sport, athletes are all born with a drive to succeed at what they do. In the past decade or so, we have unfortunately witnessed an era in sports where some athletes took the idea of gaining an edge over their competitors a little too far. They turned to steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in order to illegally perform at almost inhuman rates.

At the same time, many athletes made it through the “steroid era” without taking any illegal substances, simply by working hard and excelling at what they do best. Much of this was with the help of high-tech equipment, new technology for quicker recovery times, and more advanced training facilities than what was available in the past. One company which has been at the forefront in helping these athletes achieve their goals, has been Nike.

icehat6Now, Nike is working with U.S. Olympic champion and decathlon world record holder Ashton Eaton to help him gain a “fair” advantage in the upcoming 2016 Olympics. Eaton, who is a decathlon runner, must maintain his stamina through ten grueling track and field events, divided over a period of two days. Events include the high jump, long jump, javelin throw, pole vault, discus throw, 1500 metre run, and more. You can only image how tired athletes like Eaton must be during and after participating in such events.

“A perfect scenario would be to feel like you’ve just started on every event. The more you do, the more attrition you experience. Rather than realizing immediate physiological gain, the challenge is more about reducing the mental attrition from the two days to maximize each event,” says Eaton. “After asking questions about current recovery techniques, the conversation prompted me to ask myself: Why does it feel good, after running, to pour a bottle of water over your head? I don’t know the physiological answer, but the fact that it does feel better makes me perform better. ”

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This got Eaton and Nike thinking about an 11-year-old product called the Nike PreCool Vest, which was designed to be worn on an athlete’s chest to keep him/her cool throughout an event. After much study, Nike Sports Research Lab (NSRL) decided that there was plenty of evidence supporting the fact that, if muscles are kept cool they perform much better than if over heated. This led them to design a head and facial device, referred to as an “Ice Hat”, which is basically a well-designed, perfectly fitting ice pack for the entire head and face.

As we all know, everyone’s heads are shaped differently, so Nike needed to come up with a method of creating an Ice Hat which would fit Eaton perfectly. To do this, they turned to 3D scanning and 3D printing technology. They scanned Eaton’s head and then turned it into a 3D printed replica in which the Ice Hat would be fabricated around.

“Nike’s culture is one of invention and this is invention with purpose: making athletes better,” said Sandy Bodecker, VP of Special Projects, Nike Innovation. “Working collaboratively with the best athletes means faster problem solving and allows us to bring the future, faster. The insight Ashton gave us was that overheating was a challenge, especially during the high jump and pole vault when there was so much time spent on the field, and he asked how we could speed up his recovery between his short, explosive action. It was an interesting challenge coming directly from one of the world’s greatest athletes so we, literally, took the challenge head-on”

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Currently the hat, which you see pictured above, is still in the prototyping and iteration phases of development. The team at Nike plans to continue working with Eaton on this hat, leading up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio. If all works out, we may just see Eaton wearing this unique hat on a grand stage, thanks to Nike, and a little help from the potential that 3D printing provides.

What do you think about this hat? Will we see more athletes turning toward technology like this in the future? Discuss in the Ice Hat forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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