After a year of delay, the 16th Summer Paralympics will finally take place in Tokyo in August and September 2021.
This is set to be the biggest Paralympics in history, with 537 events across 22 sports. In Rio 2016, Team GB won 147 medals, 64 of them gold. Building on that incredible performance, our athletes head off to Tokyo, with high hopes that the GB team is set for another record haul.
The professionalism, dedication and ability of our Paralympic team is truly awe-inspiring. It is also a sport where the relationship between the athlete and the equipment that they use is absolutely critical. It can often be the difference between a place on the podium or going home empty handed.
Because the margins for success are often measured in milliseconds, athletes and the wider technical teams that support them, are always looking for ways to maximise the chances of getting amongst the medals. This involves diet and training regimes, but it also requires using the latest design and materials technology to develop strong, lightweight equipment that is at the very forefront of UK manufacturing. At the heart of that equipment will often be modern polymers.
As one of the UK’s leading plastic moulding manufacturers, ENL is passionate about the positive difference that modern plastics can make to people’s lives. The Tokyo Paralympics is all about the athletes, but it is also an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the way that the UK’s advanced manufacturing sector is helping them to achieve their goals.
Cutting Edge Prosthesis
In some event classifications, para-athletes use prosthesis manufactured from combinations of carbon and modern polymers. These blades have to be strong enough to handle significant force, flexible enough to absorb energy, yet light enough to allow easy movement and to enable speed.
For instance, one of GB’s key medal prospects is UK para-athlete Richard Whitehead, who competes using a set of carbon and polymer blades. Whitehead is the world record holder for athletes with a double amputation in both the full and half marathons. He won the gold medal in the 200m T42 event in London 2012, successfully defending it in the 2016 games.
Whitehead is going for gold again in the 200m at Tokyo later this summer, with a pair of blades which offer the lightness, flexibility and strength needed for him to compete at an elite level.
What is also important about such technology, is that whilst it is developed for elite sportspeople, it also establishes new techniques and benchmarks which have a wider benefit to society. Some of the technology which was once seen only on the running track is increasingly being used to manufacture prosthesis that people use in everyday lives. As new technologies become mainstream, and costs reduce, it is likely that we will see wider adoption of these materials to open up access and improve the lives of people living with disabilities across the UK.
It is a great example of the way that innovations in elite sport can find their way into the mainstream, and of how modern manufacturing is setting new standards when it comes to unleashing the potential of modern polymers.
Across other sports too, UK para-athletes too will be working in partnership with designers and manufacturers to try and give them the edge when it comes to their events. Track events, and sports such as basketball will demand the very latest innovations in wheelchair technologies to support our athletes.
Whether you are racing or playing a team sport, for our wheelchair athletes it is absolutely critical that their wheelchairs are strong, light and manoeuvrable.
Modern materials technology will help competitors like Yorkshire born Hannah Cockcroft, who has won five Paralympic, 10 world and two European titles since her international debut in 2011. Her success is down to talent, dedication and hard work. But like all athletes – able bodied or disabled, she also needs the very best equipment available to allow her to compete at the highest level.
Ahead of the 2016 games in Rio, GB athletes like Cockcroft worked with UK Sport and BAE systems to improve the acceleration of wheelchairs. Key to this was the development of a new, lighter composite-based wheel, that had more rigidity than conventional racing wheelchairs. This stopped the wheels tilting inwards, reducing friction with the track and helped power Cockcroft to Olympic gold.
Plastics at the Heart
Across a wide-range of other sports, plastics will play an important role, both in the Olympics and the Paralympics. From kayaks and canoes to the clothes and shoes worn by athletes, to the mats used in gymnastics, modern plastic technology will be central to Tokyo 2020. Even the track itself is made up of a combination of polymers to provide the ideal surface for new records to be set.
In short, Tokyo 2020 provides another useful reminder of just how central plastics are to everyday life across the globe. It will also provide an opportunity to showcase the importance of using plastics in a sustainable way.
The most high-profile illustration of this will be the medal podium itself, where we hope to see athletes like Cockcroft and Whitehead collect more gold medals for Team GB. The medal podium is made entirely of recycled plastic following a project where the Japanese public collected used plastic and marine debris to produce the podium.
The result is a stunning visual reminder of both the centrality of plastic, the power of people coming together, and the importance of sustainability. Great design, and lightweight materials are important, but on their own do not win medals. Talent, teamwork, dedication and courage do. These are qualities that our Paralympians have in abundance. Here at ENL, we will be watching on, hoping to see our athletes do the nation proud once again.
About ENL Group
ENL Group is based in Portsmouth, UK and Veľké Kostoľany, Slovakia. Established in 1958, we have been servicing UK-based and European companies for decades. Working with a secure supply chain, ENL provides quality components for quality-driven customers – with full certification for all of our products and quality checking at every stage.
Operating 24/7, we design, manufacture and deliver critical components for our customers across the UK and Europe.
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