Measuring system using laser beams and helium bubbles helps top skaters go for gold

News - 02 March 2021

TU Delft, NOC*NSF, KNSB and Innovation Lab Thialf have been using the Ring of Fire measuring system to analyse top Dutch speed skaters. The measuring system was used last week in Heerenveen to measure and visualise the air resistance around a moving skater.

The Ring of Fire is a tunnel containing thousands of bubbles filled with helium through which the skaters skate. Lighting up these bubbles with a laser and taking photographs really quickly with a high-speed camera enables us to create a precise image of the airflow around the moving skaters. Wouter Terra, a researcher at TU Delft and NOC*NSF, explains: “The Ring of Fire is unique because it is the only measuring system in the world that can determine the exact air resistance of a moving skater. Up to now it was only possible to measure the air resistance in a wind tunnel in which the skater is standing still.’’

KNSB national coach Jan Coopmans: “Air resistance is the greatest obstacle that skaters have to overcome. The less the air resistance, the faster they go. This state-of-the-art measuring system helps in the quest to reduce air resistance and thus increase speed.’’

Arm behind back or swinging free
Sander van Ginkel, embedded scientist at the KNSB, explains the importance of this measuring method: “Up to now we could only visualise air resistance. Now we are able to measure the exact air resistance of various postures during skating. This enables us to make a well-founded decision based on statistics rather than gut feeling. For example, we can look at the difference between skating with your arm behind your back or with the arm swinging free.’’

That de Ring of Fire, conceived by TU Delft, could be used to do measurements for the top skaters is thanks to the collaboration with NOC*NSF, KNSB and Innovatielab Thialf. Together these parties are using innovation to help the top skaters go for gold. Kamiel Maase, TeamNL innovation & research performance manager: “As NOC*NSF we want to ensure that TeamNL does everything just a little smarter and better than the rest of the world. This is why we have spent years investing in research and innovation. Ring of Fire is a splendid example of how science can be brought right into the world of sport – in this case the ice of the Thialf stadium – giving us a leading edge on the way to the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022.’’

More information

Lenny Bakker

Science Information Officer TU Delft