Tribology and Sportswear Materials: Enhancing Performance at the Olympic Games 2024 

Image of different sports in the Olympics being played out in cartoon.

As athletes from around the globe gear up for the highly anticipated Olympic Games 2024, the pursuit of excellence extends beyond rigorous training regimes and mental fortitude—it encompasses the very fabric they wear. In the quest for gold, advancements in sportswear materials stand as a silent yet formidable ally, guided by the principles of tribology.  

Tribology’s significance lies in its ability to provide athletes with that crucial advantage, potentially turning near-misses into resounding victories. By exploring the intricate dynamics of surface interactions and material performance, tribology empowers designers to create sportswear that enhances athletic performance and protects athletes’ well-being. 

While the journey towards Olympic glory is paved with countless hours of dedication and sacrifice, the choice of attire emerges as a pivotal determinant of success. Each garment, meticulously engineered through the lens of tribology, holds the promise of unlocking untapped potential and propelling athletes towards their ultimate goal—standing atop the podium as an Olympic champion. Join us as we explore the depths of friction, wear, and lubrication in sportswear materials, investigate the latest innovations and applications in tribology, and discuss their implications for athletes competing at the Olympic Games 2024. 

Decoding Friction, Wear and Lubrication in Sportwear  

Ever wondered how sportswear keeps up with the intensity of Olympic-level competition? Well, it’s all about the science behind friction, wear, and lubrication. These factors are essential for ensuring top performance from athletic attire during those heart-pounding moments on the field or track. By understanding these basics, designers can craft sportswear that not only looks good but also stands strong against the toughest challenges at the Olympic Games 2024. Curious to know more? Let’s dive in. 

Friction; Balancing Grip and Glide 

Friction plays a critical role in sportswear design, profoundly influencing performance and comfort. Excessive friction, particularly in areas prone to high friction such as the feet and thighs, can lead to discomfort, dermal abrasions, or pressure sores. On the other hand, insufficient friction can compromise an athlete’s stability and grip, attributes that are crucial for sports requiring swift directional changes or precise movements. Now we’ll take a closer look at how the Coefficient of Friction (CoF) and the management of frictional heat generation play crucial roles in enhancing sportswear performance. 

Coefficient of Friction (CoF) 

Achieving the ideal balance of friction between sportswear and the athlete’s skin is crucial for enhancing performance and comfort during athletic activities. The coefficient of friction (CoF), a measure of resistance to sliding between surfaces, plays a pivotal role in determining the frictional forces experienced during movement. Materials like polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and silicone elastomers are carefully chosen for their ability to maintain a low CoF, reducing skin shear and minimising the risk of blisters and abrasions [2].  

These materials find relevance in various sports where friction management is critical. In long-distance running, excessive friction between the runner’s skin and their apparel can lead to discomfort, blisters, and hindered performance. By integrating materials with low CoF, such as PTFE and silicone elastomers, into running apparel, manufacturers can mitigate frictional forces and enhance overall performance [2]. This strategic approach not only reduces the risk of skin irritation and injuries but also allows athletes to focus on their stride and pace, ultimately improving their running experience – and maybe even their chances. 

Frictional Heat Generation 

During intense physical activity, the friction between the athlete’s skin and their clothing generates heat, which can lead to discomfort and even thermal injuries. To mitigate this risk, advanced sportswear incorporates innovative cooling fabrics embedded with phase-change materials (PCMs). These PCMs possess exceptional properties that allow them to absorb, store, and dissipate heat effectively, thereby maintaining an optimal skin temperature during strenuous exercise [3]. By effectively managing frictional heat generation, athletes can remain comfortable and focused on their performance, reducing the likelihood of overheating and associated injuries. This integration of advanced cooling technologies into sportswear represents a significant advancement in athletic apparel design, ensuring that athletes can push their limits without compromising their comfort or well-being. 

Wear Resistance; Ensuring Durability 

Durability is paramount for sportswear. The repetitive motions and physical stresses endured during training and competition necessitate materials that can withstand significant wear and tear over time. As we delve into wear resistance, we’ll specifically examine two critical aspects: abrasion resistance and fatigue resistance. These qualities are essential for maintaining the integrity and longevity of sportswear, ensuring that athletes can perform at their best without concerns about premature wear or deterioration. Here we explore how these factors contribute to the durability of sportswear, supporting athletes in their relentless pursuit of excellence. 

Abrasion Resistance 

One of the key aspects of wear resistance is abrasion resistance, which refers to a material’s ability to withstand surface wear caused by rubbing, scraping, or frictional forces. High-performance fibres such as ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) and aramid fibres, like Kevlar (commonly used in bullet proof jackets), are prized for their exceptional abrasion resistance [1]. These fibres are renowned for their toughness and durability, making them ideal candidates for sportswear applications where prolonged use and exposure to abrasive surfaces are common. For instance, in sports like rock climbing or mountain biking, where athletes often come into contact with rough surfaces, abrasion-resistant materials play a crucial role in protecting the integrity of sportswear garments. By incorporating UHMWPE and aramid fibres into clothing and protective gear, manufacturers can ensure that athletes have reliable protection against abrasions and prolong the lifespan of their apparel. 

Fatigue Resistance 

In addition to abrasion resistance, sportswear materials must also exhibit fatigue resistance to withstand the repetitive stresses encountered during athletic activities. Fatigue refers to the progressive and localised structural damage that occurs when a material is subjected to cyclic loading, such as stretching and flexing. To address this challenge, elastomeric fibres like Lycra and spandex are commonly used in sportswear construction [1]. These fibres possess excellent elasticity and recoverability, allowing garments to retain their shape and performance characteristics even after enduring repetitive stretching and flexing during intense physical activities. 

In sports like gymnastics, where athletes perform dynamic movements that involve stretching and bending, fatigue-resistant materials are essential for maintaining garment integrity and providing athletes with the flexibility and freedom of movement they need to excel. By integrating materials with superior fatigue resistance into sportswear design, manufacturers can ensure that athletes can train and compete with confidence, knowing that their apparel is built to withstand the rigors of their sport. 

Lubrication: Enhancing Comfort 

In tribology, lubrication refers to the introduction of substances that reduce friction and wear between surfaces in relative motion. In sportswear, effective lubrication management is critical for maintaining comfort and reducing the risk of skin damage. 

  1. Microencapsulated Lubricants: Some advanced sportswear incorporates microencapsulated lubricants that release gradually during wear. These lubricants, often based on silicone or fluoropolymers, form a thin, lubricious layer on the skin, reducing friction and preventing chafing [1]. 

Moisture Management 

Moisture-induced friction can be a significant source of discomfort for athletes, particularly during intense physical activity. Modern sportswear addresses this challenge through the use of hydrophilic and hydrophobic fibres to create moisture-wicking fabrics [4]. These innovative fabrics draw sweat away from the skin to the outer surface of the garment, where it can evaporate quickly, thereby reducing the buildup of moisture and minimising friction between the athlete’s skin and clothing. By incorporating moisture-wicking technology into sportswear design, manufacturers ensure that athletes can stay dry, comfortable, and focused on their performance, even during the most demanding workouts or competitions. 

Microencapsulated Lubricants  

Another innovative approach to lubrication in sportswear involves the use of microencapsulated lubricants that gradually release during wear [1]. These lubricants, often based on silicone or fluoropolymers, are embedded within the fabric and activate upon contact with the skin, forming a thin, lubricious layer that reduces friction and prevents chafing. In sports where repetitive motions or prolonged contact with equipment can lead to friction-related injuries, such as cycling or rowing, sportswear infused with microencapsulated lubricants provides an added layer of protection and comfort for athletes. By minimising frictional forces between the athlete’s skin and clothing, these innovative fabrics help prevent abrasions, blisters, and other skin irritations, allowing athletes to focus on their performance without discomfort or distraction. 

Innovations in Sportswear Materials 

Recent innovations in sportswear materials are heavily influenced by tribological principles. For instance, compression garments are designed to enhance blood flow and reduce muscle fatigue by applying controlled pressure, which is optimised through an understanding of friction and wear. Additionally, smart textiles embedded with sensors can monitor an athlete’s biomechanics, providing real-time feedback to adjust movements and improve performance while minimising the risk of injury.  Let’s take a look at nano and bio inspired materials that truly carry futuristic tendencies in their own right. 


Nanotechnology has ushered in a new era of innovation in sportswear materials, particularly through the application of nano-coatings* to fabrics. These coatings, composed of nanoparticles of titanium dioxide (TiO2) and silicon dioxide (SiO2), impart extraordinary properties to textiles, including self-cleaning, heightened water resistance, and improved breathability. By creating superhydrophobic surfaces, these nano-coatings effectively repel water and prevent moisture buildup, making them invaluable for athletes participating in outdoor activities where weather conditions can be unpredictable. Sportswear treated with nano-coatings can keep athletes dry and comfortable, allowing them to maintain focus and performance regardless of the environmental challenges they face. [3] 

*Nano-coatings are thin films applied to surfaces at the nanoscale level, typically ranging from 1 to 100 nanometers in thickness. These coatings are composed of nanoparticles, which are particles with dimensions in the nanometer range. Nano coatings can be made from various materials, including metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites. 

Interested in reading more about Nano? Head to our in-depth exploration of Nanotribology here.

Bioinspired Materials 

Bioinspired materials represent a cutting-edge innovation in sportswear design, drawing inspiration from nature’s ingenious solutions. These materials replicate the unique properties found in natural structures such as the lotus leaf, offering unmatched performance characteristics. With hierarchical surface structures that reduce friction and enhance wear resistance, bioinspired materials hold immense promise for athletes seeking durable and high-performance sportswear. In sports where athletes perform intricate movements and require garments that can withstand rigorous activity, bioinspired materials provide the necessary combination of durability and flexibility. By incorporating these innovative materials into sportswear design, athletes can enjoy enhanced comfort, mobility, and longevity in their apparel. The groundbreaking research conducted by Das et al. in Innovations in sportswear materials: A tribological perspective [4] showcases the transformative potential of bioinspired materials in revolutionising the sporting landscape. 

Interested in reading more about Bio? Head to our in-depth exploration of Biotribology here 

Sports-Specific Material Applications 

Different sports demand specific material properties to optimise performance and comfort for athletes. Here’s a breakdown of some sports-specific materials used in the Olympics 2024. 

Track and Field

    • Upper Body Wear: Compression tops made from Lycra and polyester blends are used to reduce muscle vibration and fatigue. These materials also incorporate moisture-wicking technologies to keep athletes dry. 
    • Footwear: Shoes designed with carbon fibre plates provide lightweight support and enhanced energy return. The outsoles use rubber compounds optimised for grip and durability on various track surfaces. 


      • Swimwear: High-tech fabrics such as polyurethane and hydrophobic textiles reduce drag in water. These materials are designed to repel water, reduce surface friction, and improve glide efficiency. 
      • Goggles: Anti-fog and anti-scratch coatings on polycarbonate lenses ensure clear vision and durability. 


        • Cycling Shorts: Made from Lycra with reinforced padding to reduce pressure and friction on the saddle. The fabrics are also treated with antimicrobial agents to prevent odour and bacterial growth. 
        • Jerseys: Lightweight, breathable fabrics such as polyester meshes are used to enhance ventilation and moisture management. 


          • Leotards: High-stretch fabrics such as spandex and nylon blends provide flexibility and support. These materials also feature anti-slip coatings to ensure the leotard stays in place during routines. 
          • Grip Aids: Silicone or latex-based grip aids are applied to hands and feet to enhance traction on apparatus. 

          The Impact on Olympic Athletes 

          For Olympic athletes, the advancements in tribology and sportswear materials are more than just technological marvels; they are enablers of performance and inclusivity. For athletes with diverse physical and sensory abilities, the advancements in tribology and sportswear materials herald a new era of customised performance solutions tailored to individual needs. Take, for instance, the development of adaptive clothing meticulously engineered with minimal seams and soft closures. For athletes with sensory sensitivities, these thoughtful design elements mitigate discomfort, allowing them to channel their focus entirely on their performance without distraction or hindrance. 

          Furthermore, the significance of high-performance sportswear extends far beyond its tangible benefits. It serves as a potent catalyst for psychological well-being, instilling a profound sense of confidence and morale in athletes. Donning gear that is not only comfortable but also durable and optimised for performance elevates athletes’ self-assurance, empowering them to embrace the challenges of competition with unwavering determination. In the arena of the Olympics, where every triumph is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, the psychological impact of sportswear designed with meticulous care cannot be overstated.  

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          1. Qian, Y., et al. (2015). Advances in the study of the wear resistance of sportswear materials. Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology, 12(3), 201-215. 
          1. Troynikov, O., et al. (2010). Frictional properties of sportswear materials. Journal of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management, 6(1), 1-14. 
          1. Li, H., et al. (2018). Innovations in sportswear materials: A tribological perspective. Sports Engineering, 21(4), 299-312. 
          1. Das, S., et al. (2017). Tribological aspects of modern sportswear materials. Materials Science and Engineering: C, 78, 1234-1245.