How Nike Used 3-D Printing to Design Its Olympic Track Shoes

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price and the rest of Team Nike will be wearing spikes designed to make them run faster.

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BY Kevin J. Ryan - 08 Aug 2016

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price has won gold in the women's 100-meter sprint at both of the last two Olympics. This year in Rio, the Jamaican sprinter will get an assist from some futuristic footwear.

Fraser-Price teamed up with Nike to create the Zoom Superfly Elite, a spike that the company is calling one of its most advanced track shoes yet, according to Engadget. Nike designed and tested the shoes throughout the last several years using 3-D printing to create the perfect shape and stiffness to help the elite athlete reach her maximum speed.

Nike's 3-D printing tech was used to make the plate, the bottom of the shoe from which small metal spikes protrude. The company came up with more than 20 different designs, each with varying stiffness. Fraser-Price's speed on the track and off the starting block was recorded with each shoe to track which design was most effective at shaving off precious milliseconds.

Instead of using the screw-in spikes usually used on the bottom of track shoes, Nike eventually decided to fix them into the plate. The idea is that this allows the runner's foot to be slightly closer to the ground, which should allow for faster running speeds.

The design Nike and Fraser-Price settled on is the one the company will use for all its Zoom Superfly Elite spikes. The shoes will be worn by more than 100 Nike-sponsored athletes at this year's Games, so it's not a stretch to say 3-D printing will have some impact on the Olympic outcomes.

The shoes that Fraser-Price and the other athletes wear during competition, however, were not 3-D printed--the tech was used only to create prototypes to test. Nike says it's still a way off from using the technology in that way.

3-D printing allows manufactures to produce prototypes in a matter of hours--a process that can otherwise take days or weeks when various parts need to be created and shipped from across the globe. Generally, the technology isn't advanced enough to produce intricate finished products, though some companies are working on making printers that can do just that.

Under Armour, meanwhile, recently released a line of sneakers with 3-D printed insoles--though those shoes aren't designed for Olympic athletes racing at the highest levels of competition.

The Olympic opening ceremonies kick off August 5. Fraser-Price's first official race in her new shoes will be the 100-meter preliminaries on August 12.