The difference between bringing home a medal at the Olympic Games or going home empty-handed can be a mere millisecond. When an athlete’s entire life’s work has culminated to that one moment, every second, every inch, and every advantage counts. To help gain that competitive edge, elite athletes and teams have begun to partner with technology companies, creating a win-win. Athletes get to test the the most avant-garde products that can help push them over the finish line, and marketers get to showcase their brand on the largest stage in the world. This rare opportunity allows brands to establish themselves as category leaders before the underlying product technology hits the consumer market.

In this chapter of our series we will analyze how products and technologies designed specifically for Olympic athletes have and continue to influence the consumer market, as well as offer our own projections on potential new concepts.  

A history of innovation

During the 2012 Summer Games Nike debuted its new Flyknit technology. Made of twisted fibers and constructed with a 3D printing process, it weighed much less than other high-performance shoes on the market. Nike-sponsored marathoners and Team USA medalists wore Flyknit on the podium, and soon thereafter shoes boasting the technology later launched commercially, finding resounding success. After expanding across multiple lines of business, the technology has earned Nike nearly $1B in sales.

Nike isn’t the only company that has used the Olympics to test and commercialize new products. Speedo became famous for a new swimsuit so advanced, it impacted the regulations of the entire sport. The LZR swimsuit,  showcased during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, constricted the torso and increased buoyancy.  The suit helped 98% of the swimmers wearing it secure gold at the games, and garnered nearly 100 World Records in less than 18 months. Rule changes were quickly put in place to neutralize such a potent advantage. These innovative swimsuits soon made their way to mass market, enabling mainstream swimmers to improve their performance as well.

What we will see in Pyeongchang

A product launched at the World Skiing Championships, and perfected for its Olympic debut in South Korea, is the Dainese airbag. It is a vest containing seven sensors that can intelligently detect when a skier has lost control and inflates rapidly to help avoid serious injury. Already, these airbags have reduced injury rates during their years of testing in some of the biggest ski races around the world.

A second innovation developed for the Olympics this year is the Samsung Smart Suit. Designed for Dutch speed skaters to maximize their performance during training, this suit measures body posture through five embedded sensors and sends real-time data to their coach. If skaters’ bodies are not in the right position — a key factor in maximizing speed on the ice — coaches can notify the skater by sending them a notification via wrist vibration. 

What might this look like in the future

These data-driven products offer a powerful value proposition to Olympic athletes: the ability to measure and analyze their personal data in the moment and offer immediate assistance — either informative or preventative. Now that this technology has been tested on professional athletes, it has the potential to help the everyday athlete as well. Maybe a tech-embedded basketball sleeve that helps you understand your jump shot or even running socks that notify you when you’re about to strain a muscle in your calf.  However, what really excites us are the ways in which this underlying technology might cross categories to provide solutions for the everyday consumer as well. 

However, what really excites us are the ways
in which this underlying technology might cross categories
to provide solutions for the everyday consumer as well. 


For example, every year, 2.8 million people over the age of 65 fall, and about 800,000 end up being hospitalized with either a hip or head injury. A wearable safety belt that uses sensor technology to detect dangerous falls before they happen and deploy airbags to cushion the landing could be a potential solve. This would not only provide a new level of safety, but emotional security to the senior citizen community. To our delight, this piece of wearable tech is currently being pursued by a few companies and if successful, could reduce the annual $31 billion in medical costs they create.

Concept 1: Nourish — tech that tracks nutrition

Another possible application of this technology that is further down the road is a daily smart pill we like to call ‘Nourish.’ While diet and nutrition are a daily concern for almost everyone, maintaining it requires a level of active engagement, discipline, and education that most people don’t have. The Nourish smart pill would monitor your nutritional intake — calories, vitamins, minerals, caffeine, proteins — and let you know in the moment via an accompanying phone app what you need to eat, and how much, to hit your personal health goals. This form of nutritional technology could support consumers in their ongoing effort to achieve better health, carving out a niche area within the massive H&W market at the intersection of supplement and tech.

What this means for you

This data-driven technology featured in the upcoming Olympics offers a new direction for today’s smart devices, which do measure and analyze your personal data in the moment, but only to provide interpretation and action after the fact. This new offering presents an opportunity for organizations to innovate around products that provide immediate action and support in real time. 

In order to do so, we see three key areas of transformation:

  1. Design an ecosystem around a human focal point, seamlessly marrying sensors, form, and instant responsiveness.
  2. Speed of insight, not just quality of insight, will unlock the value of connected products, creating new opportunities to differentiate products.
  3. Every apparel and equipment company is now an education company — it is time to help your buyers achieve better results.

So if you’re a brand that wants to win in this space, the questions you’ll need to ask yourself are:

“What kind of data should we capture and when?”
“How should we capture it?”
“How quickly can we provide it?”
“What kind of assistance should we provide with this data?” 


We hope that you’ve found our insights surrounding athlete-inspired innovation thought-provoking. We look forward to sharing the rest of our three part series in the coming weeks. The future chapters will provide a more in-depth review of the impact the Olympics has on innovation through the key lenses of fans and cities. 


Further Reading & Sources: