The Chinese Olympic team came second in the medals tally for the Tokyo 2021 Summer Games and owes a great deal of that success to the nation’s triumphs in the swimming pool. A significant influence in China’s excellence in the Olympic pool came from an unlikely source: China’s Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
Of the nation’s 88 medals, six have come in the swimming events, three of which were gold. Zhang Yufei impressed many, picking up gold in the 200-metre butterfly and another first place in the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay event.
According to a statement made by CASC in late July, the firm that usually focuses on making crafts fly at incredible speeds worked closely with Chinese swimmers, reviewing every detail in the lead-up to the ‘Big Show’.
Researchers at CASC fabricated smaller versions of the internal gyroscopic guidance system used by rockets and missiles to find targets thousands of kilometres away and used them to help athletes refine strokes and reduce drag. Of course, a standard missile ‘gyro’ guidance system would be far too heavy for swimmers to tow along in the pool.
The team at CASC said they only needed 12 months to make functioning gyroscopic measuring instruments that only weighed several grams. The devices could be attached to the athletes without hindering mobility and obscuring data.
According to the South China Morning Post, the Chinese swimmers were placed inside a wind tunnel and asked to ‘swim’ against the wind. Their every movement was tracked and observed from outside the chamber.
CASC officials said the exercise allowed analysts to track and calculate drag created by the swimmers’ movements. They were then given advice and recommendations to further fine-tune their stroke or work on their physical capabilities.
The Chinese rowing team also made use of CASC’s simulator. Highly touted from the start, the Chinese men’s quadruple sculls rowing team ended up taking gold, edging out Germany.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for those participating in the CASC simulator. Missiles, rockets and other ballistics are normally fabricated from steel and other inorganic materials. Human athletes are somewhat different; they breathe and sweat where missiles do not.
The rowing team also ran into some difficulties as CASC engineers and scientists had to take into account and simulate how the boat would interact with both water and air.
In preparation for the next Winter Games, to be hosted in Beijing in 2022, the Chinese General Administration of Sport built a wind tunnel dedicated to high-performance sports.