Here at 3D Print Works, we love the Olympics. And we also love the Paralympics. But what we love most of all is when 3D printing crops up in relation to the Olympics and/or Paralympics! Yes, you’d be surprised to learn that 3D printing is actually a surprisingly important part of the greatest games on earth. So we thought that we’d compile them in a nice list for you. To find our how 3D printing and the Olympics and Paralympics are intimately linked, read on!
Yes, the most basic necessity of any Olympics is the podium to stand on when you win your medals. It’s been there since Ancient Greece after all, while things like shoes, skateboarding, and wearing clothes while competing, are all fairly modern inventions. But this year, even the podiums got their own modern upgrade – they were 3D printed! The podiums were made of recycled plastic that had been donated by the public in an effort to show sustainability and to make the Olympics that little bit greener. Of course, this means the podiums can be recycled for Paris 2024 – let’s hope the IOC make that effort again.
2. Bike Parts
Team GB have become famous for their cycling exploits in recent Olympics, with names such as Chris Hoy, Laura Kenny (nee Pendleton) and Jason Kenny all taking home gold medals. Tokyo was no different, as the British cyclists took home 3 golds, 3 silvers, and a bronze in the velodrome, with a combined 12 medals in all cycling disciplines. But the British bike, the Hope HB.T, made by Lotus, also incorporated 3D printing. Printed in GB by Renishaw, the stems and handlebars can be made lighter by 3D printing, reducing weight on the bike. As well as this, 3D printing enables fast printing of complex shapes and personalization of bike parts to fit the rider like a glove, giving the British cyclists yet another advantage in the Velodrome.
3. Archery Grips
Did you know that South Korea have won 103 archery medals since 1984? That’s almost 40 years of frightening dominance over archery, in every single category. What’s the secret to their success? Probably training, discipline and hard work. But 3D printing also helped! Yes, the grips of Korean bows were 3D printed. This enabled personalization, so the grip of the bow fit the archer like a glove. This helps keep the bow steady, and thus gets the archer that little bit closer to the bullseye.
4. Shooting Grips
Speaking of ranged shooting sports, 3D printing was also present in the Olympic shooting event! French shooter Celine Goberville requested a grip that better fit her hand ahead of Tokyo 2020. French company Athletics 3D were only too happy to oblige, and printed out a custom grip for Celine, personalized for her hand. If it’s good enough for a previous European Champion and silver medallist in the 2012 Olympics in the 10m pistol, it’s good enough for the rest! Sadly, Celine could only manage eighth in the end, but she managed to get to the final stages – so eight in the world is still very good!
5. Basketball Wheelchairs
Of course, we haven’t even begun to consider the Paralympics at this point. And we really should, given how much exciting innovation goes on there! For example, did you know that Team GB’s wheelchair basketballers will be taking to the court in 3D printed BMW’s? Yes, the wheelchairs will be printed out using a digital scan of the athlete in their wheelchair to enable customization and individualization, but the base frame was designed by BMW. This lighter, more maneuverable wheelchair could soon be on the streets in a boon for both British athletes and the general public.
6. Handbike & Racing Wheelchair Parts
Wheelchair racing is no easy sport. Just ask Joe Townsend, a former world triathlete champion. He now has a small manufacturing endeavour which has printed parts for parathletes to use in their own careers. One such product is plastic gloves. Needed by parathletes in wheelchair racing, gloves have to fit, well, like a glove. And they’re very easy to lose or break. 3D printing solves both of these problems by enabling personalization as well as enabling replacement gloves to be printed fast and cheaply. Joe then applied the same process to the grips on handbikes and racing wheelchairs, and they’re a winner as well! Just ask Howie Sanborn, who won the 2021 Americas Triathlon Para Championship while using these products.
7. Back Braces
To stay with the Paralympics, have you ever seen wheelchair fencing? The wheelchair fencers need to wear a back brace while competing. This can often be cumbersome and unwieldy, as Polina Rozkova found out. The Latvian wheelchair fencer went to Baltic3D, a subsidiary of Stratasys, to have her own custom 3D printed back brace made. Rozkova went to Rio in 2016 for the Paralympics with her back brace, saying “I feel better equipped than ever to realise my goals and be a champion”.
8. Opening Ceremony Costumes
Many of you who watched the last Paralympics, the 2016 ones in Rio de Janeiro, will remember the spectacular opening ceremony. One of the centrepieces of that opening ceremony was the dance performed by US athlete Amy Purdy. But you might not know that the dress worn by Purdy, a Paralympic medallist, was 3D printed! Yes, the dress was designed by Danit Peleg, (who we had the pleasure of talking to in 2016) and printed using a soft material named Filaflex. The nude dress worked like elastic, and enabled Purdy to dance to her best level possible.