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Fluke thermometers keep Canadian National Bobsleigh Team on the fast track

To make it on the world-stage, this world-class team uses Fluke

In international and Olympic sports, sometimes it's the smallest details that can make or break a team. That's certainly the case for bobsleigh teams, whose very competitive survival depends on being on top of ice, blade and air temperatures every minute of every practice run or competition.

Any world-class bobsleigh team simply can't manage to make the grade if they don't have a digital thermometer on their equipment list. For the Canadian National Bobsleigh Team, it's the model 52-II digital thermometers from Fluke that are helping it keep its competitive edge on the course.

Icy precision
This year the Canadian National Bobsleigh Team has two men's and three women's teams that participate in World Cup races. They compete in an average of eight races in countries around the world.

During a World Cup circuit, one of the key concerns for bobsleigh teams is that they must meet the strictest temperature requirements for the runner blades both before and after a run. Even the tiniest deviation outside those parameters will mean immediate disqualification.

According to Matt Hindle, Bobsleigh Program Manager in Calgary, Alberta, "The temperature of our equipment, and in particular the runner blades, is very tightly regulated. Any variants can mean the difference between qualifying or elimination."

Before every race runner blade temperatures are tested to ensure that they fall within a specific four degree range. Team bobsleighs are turned upside down in a central location so officials can test the blades prior to a run. But that's not always enough to make sure they meet the competitive grade.

The challenge in maintaining those guidelines is the fact that runner temperatures can change significantly while the equipment stands idle. If the blades are exposed too long to the sun, they can warm up significantly. If left sitting on the ice too long, they could fall below the qualification levels and/or lead to slower race times.

"If the environment heats up, runners can easily get five to 10 degrees warmer or colder," says Hindle. "So we must constantly check to ensure that the blades are within the legal limit up to the moment of the run. That means we have to go back and forth every five minutes to take temperatures during the last hour before the race."

This year the Canadian team decided to switch to Fluke 52-II thermometers for handling this important job. These contact thermometers offer fast response and laboratory accuracy (0.05% + 0.3°C) in a rugged, handheld test tool.

"We wanted the best thermometers possible that could provide instantaneous accurate temperature readings," says Hindle. "With these devices, we can tell when the sun starts to get hot, exactly how warm the blades are getting, if they need to be moved, or if we need to switch to alternative blades."

The Fluke thermometers are not just used for race day. Hindle says that having accurate temperatures at all times is critical to testing equipment during training sessions as well. "Having an accurate reading of the blade temperatures helps us to determine if our bobsleighs are working at their optimal state and to see where we can make improvements."

Testing the elements
Temperature measurements are not confined to the equipment alone. Ice conditions can play an integral role in bobsleigh performance. "The temperature and quality of the ice can vary from one day to the next – and even from one run to the next," Hindle explains.

Therefore, the team takes frequent temperature readings of blades and ice conditions between training runs to compare the performance of different equipment set-ups. "We need to control as many factors as possible, and that starts with knowing the conditions we are dealing with."

He adds, "When a race is coming, we need to be at our best and a big part of that is having exactly the right equipment for that day. Certain runners will slide better or worse, depending on the temperature of the ice surface. And an equipment set-up that works one day will not necessarily be right for the next. That's why we need to record ice temperatures very meticulously in order to determine the right blades for that course at that time of day."

Before every race, the coach will walk from the bottom to the top of a track taking temperatures of the ice surface and relays the information back to the team. Measurements are taken at all the corners and in the straightaways. "While we can't monitor all of the ice on the run once the race starts, this gives us a good indication of what we need to start," says Hindle.

The team also keeps a running tally of air temperatures, as well as the temperature of the ice at the top of the run during the day, which is especially important given that everything can change as the day wears on. "You can start first thing in the a.m. and by 11 it can get a lot warmer. So you have to look at your runners, the ice and the air temperature to get a good overall reading," Hindle explains.

Switching for success
The team has three Fluke 52-II thermometers on hand at any event. Hindle says that they switched to the Fluke technology because it offered the accuracy, speed and durability it needed. "It registers a lot faster and more accurately than what we had before. Sometimes our other thermometers would stop at a certain reading, but these keep registering the changes as they happen. They're also a lot tougher. If one gets wet or we drop it, or the outside temperature drops to -10 degrees Celcius, it still works."

The timing of their Fluke acquisition couldn't be better, given that the team is now ramping up for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. Hindle expects they will be able to start doing their training runs on the official track in October. "It's great to have the Olympics in our home country, since we get to spend a lot of time out there and studying the characteristics of the track. We're all looking forward to it."