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Winter Olympians test cool UC designs

Amanda Jones

13 July 2016: The Rio Summer Olympics may be just weeks away, but a team of industrial designers from the University of Canberra has their sights set firmly on the snow and the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang.

Assistant professor in design Eddi Pianca and Bill Shelley have designed personalised snowboard bindings for the Australian boardercross team as part of an ongoing collaboration between the University, Olympic Winter Institute of Australia (OWIA) and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

The original project saw the team design custom-built bindings for Olympian Alex 'Chumpy' Pullin ahead of the 2015 World Cup. The design they created using composite materials including Kevlar and carbon was such a success that the AIS asked the University to develop a new adjustable team binding that could be used by Pullin and his teammates.

"Alex is happy with his custom-built bindings and has been getting good results lately, including taking home first place in the final race in Spain of the 2016 Snowboard Cross World Cup, so we based the new adjustable team binding on the ones he's used over the past two years," Dr Pianca said.

Dr Pianca and Mr Shelley made three pairs of the new adjustable team bindings for Pullin and fellow Olympians Cameron Bolton, Belle Brockhoff and Jarryd Hughes, who placed 11th, 8th and 17th respectively at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

While the University, OWIA and the AIS are keeping the design and the manufacture of the bindings a closely guarded secret, Dr Pianca explains a few changes they've made to the original custom-built bindings.

"The outer layer of the new team design is made from carbon, whereas the original was a mix of carbon and nylon. The athletes can also adjust the angle of the binding on the board and the high-back making the new team design more like one you'd see in a shop."

Dr Pianca said that's where the similarities end with commercially available bindings.

"Our bindings are much stronger and can survive the forces elite athletes place on them. Also, we will not drastically alter our design from year to year unlike commercial bindings where athletes have to constantly adjust their riding style."

The bindings took 10 months to design and build with AIS snowboard cross head coach Ben Wordsworth collecting them from campus last month.

"Having a custom built binding that is suited to each athlete's specific requirements can be a huge advantage when it comes to competition," he said.

"This collaboration has been a huge success and we hope to continue it through to the next Olympics and beyond."

The athletes will put the bindings to the test in Perisher this month with the aim of having them ready to use for the 2016-17 World Cup season and the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

"We're also going to put sensors on the bindings that will allow us to compare an athlete's performance to other athletes," Dr Pianca said.

"It's all about giving them the competitive edge and we're really happy with the results and feedback we've received from the AIS so far."

The snowboard binding project has been fully funded by the AIS.