Strategy

6 Ways the Olympic Games Drive Innovation

On your mark, get set...innovate!

It’s no secret that the Olympic Games are one of the largest, most viewed sporting events to exist. And this year, they've come with some controversy—between the responsibility to uphold a high standard of ethics at the games and manage the stimulation for a hosting city’s economy, it’s a big deal to put on an event of this size. And the similar magnitude of its viewership brings endless opportunities for brands to innovate. 

While it’s fun to watch elite athletes go head-to-head for their countries, some of the best races take place outside of the arena and within brand evolution (a different kind of healthy competition). Here are 6 ways the Olympic Games drive innovation:

1. Technology

With the entire world watching, brands have a tremendous amount of opportunity to showcase their newest innovations and bring in the big bucks. Ralph Lauren has been dressing athletes for the opening and closing ceremonies since 2008 and has remained on top of the podium for positioning itself at the intersection of classic American style and high-tech innovation. What better way to showcase gold-medal athletes than with top-level technology?

At this year’s winter games, we’ll see the Ralph Lauren coats that automatically adapt to athletes’ body temperatures, keeping them regulated during the fluctuating temps throughout the games. With all the uncertainties still in store for these competitions in Beijing, one thing we can be sure of is that American athletes stay confidently toasty as they march in for opening ceremony.

Cultural moments create huge innovation incentives as brands race to own them. Take the Space Race, for example—from water filters to treadmills and super soakers, we still benefit from the innovation that came from that event.

-Matt Reed, Creative Technologist

2. Performance

Just when you think the world record is impressive … boom! The record gets broken once again. The bar for athletic performance is continuously raised, and the competition brought on by the Olympics heightens the incentive to constantly improve. Steel sharpens steel, and thus, brands have an opportunity to capitalize on the continuously innovative training methods. 

Uniforms, equipment, facilities and nutrition are all perpetually repolished for the ever-growing advancements in technology and athleticism. Take snowboarding for example, where it started as freestanding on a wooden sled to the creation of Winterstick, the first snowboard company, in 1972. With cutting-edge fiberglass and foot straps, the boards allowed riders to fly through more treacherous slopes than its predecessors had. Today, manufacturers continue to revolutionize sports with better, stronger, and higher-tech equipment to elevate record-shattering athletes.

3. Audience Experience

Sports fan or not, odds are you've tuned into the Olympic Games every two years along with 3 billion others around the globe. Whether that's via broadcasting, live streaming, immersive audio or virtual reality, “from the comfort of your own home” seems to be the theme of our world since adapting to the pandemic. And this popularity gives media and tech companies a big opportunity to innovate the viewership experience. 

This year will mark the first winter event providing 4K UHD/HDR coverage from the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS). To adapt to the demanding, data-heavy broadcast workflows, they created OBS Cloud, a cloud-based solution that offers high-performance connectivity, processing and storage. This also allows broadcasters to set up their own content creation, management and distribution systems within the platform. We like our streaming how we like our athletes…speedy.

4. Environment

Environmentally-friendly technology will also make an appearance in the 2022 Winter Olympics, bringing home the gold for sustainability. Ferrying over 11,000 athletes between the Olympic Village and various venues is essential, and what better way to do do this efficiently than with autonomous electric vehicles (EVs)?

Toyota, a worldwide partner of the games, introduced these “e-Palettes” in Tokyo, and they have since been modified to hold up to 20 people in each and with larger doors and electric ramps for Paralympians. Let’s not forget about the beloved spectators—Beijing 2022 will also utilize high-speed railway transportation as an innovative way to reduce carbon usage and increase support for all of the events.

5. Infrastructure

The Olympics are also a prime great showcase for the world's most innovative architecture. From Frei Otto’s tent-style stadium in 1972 to the “Bird’s Nest” in 2008 (pictured below), infrastructure in the olympics can be quite the spectacle alongside the games.

And have you seen that ice-box-turned swimming pool? New installation techniques and AI monitoring systems helped turn this water-to-ice science experiement into a new and improved skating rink in just 20 days. The new technology has helped to maintain the consistency of the ice within a range of 0.5 degrees Celsius, achieving close to net-zero carbon emissions and really puting the “tech” in architecture. Ice ice, baby!

6. Healthcare

This year, the need to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19 has created opportunities for innovation at the Olympics. AI robots will be taking charge of disinfection, body temperature checks and environment monitoring against aerosol transmission of coronavirus. And high-tech thermometers with tiny chips that stick to users’ skin are in the works to be issued to staff members, in which they will report any significant body temperature rises, allowing the medical team to immediately identify any risks.

Panasonic is also working to help gather biometric data for Olympic archers with tech that provides live monitoring of the athletes' heart rates. How does it work? 4 cameras analyze slight changes in skin color when blood contracts, allowing viewers to witness heartbeat variations and adrenaline experienced by the athlete during the event.

So, as you tune in to cheer on your favorite athletes and countries this month in the 2022 Winter Olympics, consider how far the games and world have come—the athletes in ancient Greece did start off competing naked, after all.

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