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Saturday, June 20, 2009

New decks on the block

When seasoned long distance runner Sean Sullivan experienced severe foot pain when training for the New York Marathon. He sought out the help of the Boulder Center for Sport Medicine (BCFSM) where Tim Hilden, physical therapist analyzed his stance and running style. As a result Tim was able to recommend various adjustments to the running shoes which eventuated in reduction of Sean’s symptoms. Keen to do the same for other runners Sean started to work with Tim and Dr. Andy Pruitt (director of BCFSM) and formulated both a product and process to make it easy for an athlete to have custom fitted shoes right at the time of purchase. They developed the Somnio (latin. "dream") range of footwear. Frontal plane position of the sub talar joint can be adjusted by the addition of wedges to the medial mid-sole and heel through gaps in the shoe outsole. The Somnio also accommodates soft foot orthoses (foot beds) to further comfort. The team have developed an expert system used to evaluate running styles, anthropometric data such as foot width, length, and arch height etc., and a laser to measure the angle of the leg relative to the foot. For the convenience of the customer this is all done in less than 5 minutes in the shoe shop. The Somnio is now on sale at the Boulder, Littleton and Colorado Springs stores. Despite the company’s claims expert systems are not new and have been around for a decade or so. Like all CAD systems it is a question of ‘rubbish in then rubbish out.’ So success depends on the program writers and in the process there is much number crunching which adversely affects accuracy. The concept of abnormal pronation (three plane motion which occurs at the subtalar joint) as a primary cause of foot pathology is also rather dated and most authorities now accept the problem is multifactorial. Comfortable shoes appropriate for extreme activities are considered beneficial and to that effect the Somnio adds to the existing range of quality sport shoes. In the same vein so too does the collaboration between the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and adidas to develop a new grass court shoe outsole. The culmination of two year research has produced a new outsole for the adidas CC Feather IV Grass shoe which will provide optimal grip without undue wear and tear of the grass. The adidas CC Feather IV Grass shoe was developed specifically with the London 2012 Olympic Games. Traditional grass court footwear digs in to the turf to provide grip which in turn causes extreme court damage. The new outsole on the CC Feather IV Grass features an innovative dimple pattern with fewer, softer and longer spikes. As these spikes are dragged along the surface of the grass they provide unrivalled grip whilst also giving a flat push off area which ensures quick directional change for all players. Former British number one and Wimbledon semi-finalist, Tim Henman and the British Davis Cup squad worked with adidas, the All England Club and the West Yorkshire based Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI), to test and develop the shoe, which was worn by Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi at Wimbledon’s recent roof opening. Women’s world number one Dinara Safina and Junior Wimbledon Champion Laura Robson along with Novak Djokovic, Fernando Verdasco, Marat Safin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are just some of the players who will wear the new outsole during the forthcoming Grand Slam.

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