Sports Gear for Our Top Athletes … and the Rest of Us

Professional road cyclist

This summer, we will see all sorts of sophisticated new gear to help our athletes perform their best. These world-class competitors rely on the most up-to-date, cutting edge equipment and clothing to help them swim, bike, and run faster—even if it’s only to shave off a mere thousandth of a second.

What if we mere mortals had that gear?

In many ways, we already do. The advanced gear developed for our top U.S. athletes and professional sports teams quickly trickles down to the rest of us. You may not be able to buy exactly the same swimsuit or track shoes that you’ll see on television this summer, but today’s amateur sports gear is built largely on innovations created for elite athletes. For example…

High-tech Bikes

The sleek bicycles that you’ll see racing this summer are made largely from carbon fiber-reinforced plastics—it’s a material of choice due to its combination of low weight, high strength, durability, and reliability.

This high-tech material has made its way to high performance bikes now widely available at sporting goods stores. Bike makers today use it for frames, handlebars, stems, seat posts, rims, cranks—even the intricate derailleur responsible for quickly and precisely shifting the gears. Although developed for the fastest bike racers in the world, amateur bikers now benefit from the technology.

High-tech Sneakers

For runners, it’s all about finding shoes that help protect feet without impeding performance. Elite runners often seek out shoes that behave more like socks—in fact, some runners four years ago wore shoes that weighed around five and a half ounces, less than many cell phones.

(One runner claimed he had to keep looking at his feet to make sure he still had shoes on.) High performance shoemakers continue to cut back on weight using durable plastic foams and fabrics to create low profile, super-lightweight shoes that still provide cushioning and support for leading runners. If you’re a runner, you likely have noticed that today’s running shoes weigh a fraction of those made just a few years ago… and they continue to shed unneeded weight.

Close-up of athlete's sports shoe during stretching exercises on a road at sunset.

High-tech Helmets

Fast-paced, demanding sports such as road cycling and BMX often result in unexpected crashes, whether you’re an elite racer or a weekend warrior. Fortunately, helmets are becoming more and more sophisticated to reduce the chance of head injuries.

Years ago, helmets were made of leather and basically protected against cuts and abrasions. Compare that to today’s helmets—sleek, aerodynamic shapes with built in “goggles” for cyclists or wraparound helmets that envelop the heads of BMX bikers.

Similar to these advanced designs, most of today’s consumer helmets—from biking to football and skateboarding to skiing—are made with hard, puncture-resistant plastic shells lined with shock-absorbing plastic foams that continue to evolve to provide greater protection and aerodynamics. And tough but super lightweight goggles or visors often are made with polycarbonate plastic—the same material used to make “bulletproof” glass.

Motocross rider on track, strong grain added to create atmosphere.

High-tech Uniforms… from Recycled Plastics

What about those sleek body suits worn by our best track and field athletes? Now, you may never wear (or even want to wear) these bodysuits, but they are indicative of a growing trend: recycled plastics in fabrics. Many athletes, especially those who love the outdoors, are concerned about their impact on the environment, and sports equipment companies have responded.

The competition four years ago featured numerous jerseys, shorts, and uniforms—including the U.S. athletes’ tracksuits—made with recycled plastics. That’s right: world-class athletes wearing old plastic bottles that have been recycled and spun into fibers and fabrics that combine performance and sustainability. And you don’t have to wait to take advantage of this innovation—you already can find athletic clothing made with recycled plastics in retail shops today.

Male athlete running at event

So while you may not be breaking any world records, you can choose sports gear that’s been influenced by the best of the best. And who knows—maybe you’ll even shave off a thousandth of a second from your personal best.