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Swansea technology helps power top British athletes to Tokyo success

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British athletes in Tokyo, including top medal winners, used wearable technology designed by Swansea University experts, with a printed carbon ink heater to keep their muscles warm before competing.

To ensure the concept garments were suitable for elite sport, a Swansea team made up of experts from the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating (WCPC) and Applied Sports, Technology Exercise and Medicine (A-STEM) collaborated with the English Institute of Sport (EIS), Haydale, Screentec and Newbury Electronics.

Maintaining muscle temperature at a constant level on the day of competition can improve an athlete’s performance, research by the A-STEM team has shown. At the level of elite sport, where the margins are so fine, the slightest boost in performance can mean the difference between winning and losing.

The problem is how to keep an athlete’s muscles warm right up until the last minute. This is where the WCPC team and the other collaborators’ technical ingenuity came in.

The WCPC invented a printed flexible heater using carbon-based stretchable graphene ink that can be directly attached to fabric. The idea grew out of researcher Andrew Claypole’s project as a student at Swansea University’s Materials and Manufacturing Academy. He developed flexible carbon and silver inks to create heaters that could be directly attached to stretchable fabrics.

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Dr James Claypole from the WCPC explains some of the technical challenges involved: “The stretchable garments had to be lightweight not to impede movement, machine washable, waterproof, and run from a small battery. This required custom electronics and control systems, a method of integrating the panels into the garment, and a means of connecting the soft, flat printed heaters to conventional electronics.”

Despite these challenges, the Swansea team, along with the other collaborators, succeeded in developing a working heated garment. The work was supported by the Welsh Government’s SMART Expertise programme, as well as the EIS. A-STEM researchers Dr Neil Bezodis, Dr Louise Burnie and Professor Liam Kilduff all work closely with EIS on elite athlete performance issues.

Dr Neil Bezodis from A-STEM, research lead for the project, said: “This is an excellent example of interdisciplinary research combining expertise from across Swansea University to develop an innovative solution that can enhance the impact on a real-world performance issue”.

Dr Matt Parker, Director of Performance Innovation for EIS, said:  “It is great to see the dedication and hard work of the whole team bring to reality garments that have been used by British athletes. This is something we will look to build on for future events.”

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Welsh Government Economy Minister Vaughan Gething said: “I’m delighted that we’ve been able to support this collaborative project which has resulted in making a difference to an athlete’s performance at the highest level. Congratulations to all involved.”

(Lead image: Swansea University)

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Sport

Half marathon returns to Swansea after two-year break

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There were moments of anticipation, excitement, and joy at this year’s JCP Swansea Half Marathon event.

Runners took to the city’s streets to participate in the seventh edition of the race, which is traditionally held in June. They braved the 13.1 miles in slightly cooler conditions which were perfect for running.

After Hayley Davies, CEO of JCP Solicitors, set the runners on their way, she said: 

“It was fantastic to see everyone back at the start line and enjoying such a wonderful event for the city. It is always inspiring to see others taking part, whether it’s their first event, a personal challenge, or raising money for charity. Today was an extra special day full of emotions for everyone as it marked the return of the biggest running event for the region.”

The JCP Swansea Half Marathon was last held 28 months ago in June 2019, and last year was set to be the greatest event the organising team had ever staged.

Managing Director of Front Runner Events, David Martin-Jewell, said: “It has been such a challenging time for us as event organisers, but we have pulled out all the stops to ensure that the event could run as smoothly as possible. We are thrilled to have been able to deliver the JCP Swansea Half Marathon and hope that our runners loved being back to experience race day once again!”

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The events sector has been one of the most severely affected industries during the last 18 months, so it was important that the event was just right for everyone involved. There were some changes as to be expected in a post-Covid-era, with everyone asked to register a negative lateral flow test result before participating. There were also a few changes to the route this year, but it remains one of the flattest half marathon routes in the UK.

Just over 3,000 runners attended the event, which had previously attracted a field of 6,000 from all over the World. Many chose to run virtually this year in their own towns or cities wearing their official race number and were still part of the excitement online.

The elite field remained competitive as always, with wheelchair record holder Richie Powell shaving a few seconds off his record time that was gained in 2016 and finished the race in a staggering 60:54. He was followed by Ron Price in 2nd and Leslie Hampton in 3rd for the wheelchair racers.

Samuel Goodchild of Cornwall AC won 1st place in the men’s race in a time of 1:09:28. 2nd place was taken by David Green of Rugby & Northampton AC, in a time of 1:011:09 and in 3rd place was Michael Roderick of Tri Hard Harriers achieving a time of 1:11:22.

The women’s race was equally competitive, and 1st place went to Commonwealth Games and Team GB athlete Sonia Samuels in an impressive 1:14:09. 2nd place went to Georgia Holden Edwards in a time of 1:19:59 and 3rd place went to Hayley Munn of Rugby Northampton AC in 1:20:05.

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Also taking part was Welsh TV presenter, endurance adventurer and athlete Lowri Morgan. She’s well-known for presenting Scrum V and the World Rally Championships and an avid runner that’s not afraid of a challenge. This year was the first time Lowri had participated in the JCP Swansea Half Marathon.

She commented: “I love running in Swansea, it’s such a beautiful city with an amazing coastline, so it’s an absolute delight to be finally taking part in the event! I’ve wanted to participate since it first started back in 2014, but with it being staged in the Summer, my training has never allowed me to. It’s been a tough time for everyone these last couple of years, so it feels great to be back at events, and this one is certainly one I’ll aim to be back for next year!”

Hundreds of charity runners took part in the event for good causes, raising awareness and much-needed funds for their chosen charities. Since so many events had been cancelled during the last 18 months, fundraising is still taking place for the event charity partners; Maggie’s Swansea, Cancer Research UK, and Diabetes UK Cymru so runners fundraising pages will remain open for the few weeks yet.

Team spirit was in full flow as seven companies took on the Corporate Challenge. There was some stiff competition as the teams at Matthews & Co, HMT Sancta Maria, Brecon Carreg, Carmarthenshire Actif, Arvato Bertelsmann and Swansea University were unable to beat off the team at JCP Solicitors.

Other keen runners were sporting their club vests or wearing fancy dress, including the very special Captain Beany, who makes an appearance at the race every year!

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David Martin-Jewell added: “The JCP Swansea Half Marathon is more than just a race it’s about bringing people together to share their challenge and experience. It’s about teamwork, helping the running community achieve their goals in both a mental and physical capacity, providing a platform for charity fundraising and providing volunteering opportunities for people in the city. These are all the reasons we love what we do and hope that we can continue to deliver great events for many years to come.”

The organising team behind the JCP Swansea Half Marathon, Front Runner Events, continues to work tirelessly alongside their trusty team of volunteers, dedicated sector heads and event partners who all help deliver an event Swansea can be proud of. The team continue to work closely with the founding headline sponsors, JCP Solicitors and long-term partners Matthews & Co and HMT Sancta Maria. The event hydration partner remains to be the Welsh favourite Brecon Carreg.

(Lead image: Front Runner Events)

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Rugby paywall sets “dangerous precedent”

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Plaid Cymru is calling for all Wales rugby games to be aired live on S4C following news that matches will only be accessible on Amazon Prime.

It’s been confirmed that fans of Welsh rugby will not be able to watch Wales’ autumn international matches on free-to-air television.

Matches will only be televised live on Amazon Prime, which sits behind a paywall.

This marks a change from previous matches, which have been available to watch live on S4C, which is free-to-air.

The reason the change has been made is because Amazon Prime will be providing commentary in both English and Welsh languages.

Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for sport, Heledd Fychan MS said, “This sets a dangerous precedent for the future of sports broadcasting in Welsh. It also raises questions about the future of S4C. Not only have S4C lost the right to broadcast Welsh rugby matches, but it puts in place a model that could be adopted by other broadcasters in the future.

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“The red button offer from Amazon is a gesture at best. If you do not already pay for Amazon prime, you will still need to pay to watch in Welsh. And what about pubs and clubs that have always shown the games in Welsh?

“All games from our national teams should be free to watch on S4C. Welsh rugby belongs to everyone in Wales – we must not be priced out of our own culture.”

(Lead image: Crown Copyright)

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Cycling

Funding award gives green light to school cycling initiative

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An innovative cycle maintenance and safety awareness scheme led by pupils from Gowerton Comprehensive School has received a funding boost from the South West Wales Community Rail Partnership.

Launched in February 2021, the Partnership’s ‘Community Changemakers Fund’ is aimed at supporting people and organisations wishing to deliver improvements in communities across the region. 

More than sixty applications were received from individuals and organisations seeking a share of the £16,000 fund, which was supported by Transport for Wales, Great Western Railway, Siemens Mobility and the Community Rail Partnership.  

Administered by the Carmarthenshire Association for Voluntary Services (CAVS) and the Community Rail Partnership, between £300 and £1,000 was available to apply for; with the main criteria being able to demonstrate how funding and small interventions could improve community well-being and being located near the rail network.

In a recent community survey undertaken by the school, 89% of respondents said they would use a cycle maintenance facility while 72% said they would be interested in taking a cycling safety course. Many of the individuals interested in the safety course were adults over the age of 35.

Sue Davies, Head of physical education at Gowerton Comprehensive School, said; “The grant funding is the first step for our cycling project. The funding will enable us to equip our cycling maintenance facility and allow us to train pupils in Level 1 and Level 2 Cycle maintenance.  They will work alongside Kevin Rees of Gower Cycles to coordinate a Cycle Maintenance facility, which will be available to all members of the community.”

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She continued; “We are also linking with the Active Journey team to develop a safe pathway to school initiative and to increase the number of pupils who can safely walk or cycle to school.  As part of the health & wellbeing curriculum, all year 7 and 8 pupils will have the opportunity to follow a safe cycling or cycle proficiency programme.  We are confident that they can cycle to school safely and that cycling can play a part in their lifelong journey as healthy active individuals.”

Part of the funding received from the Community Rail Partnership will be used to purchase cycle maintenance tools and stands.

Hugh Evans, head of community rail for Transport for Wales, said; “We are delighted to support this initiative.  It’s great to see pupils developing new skills while helping to promote healthier and safer cycling in the community.”

GWR Community Manager Emma Morris said; “We have a specific pot of money designed to support community and not-for-profit organisations. These projects will help to enhance thousands of lives across South Wales and we know the funding will be put to good use.”

Rob Morris, Managing Director, Rail Infrastructure, Siemens Mobility UK&I said; “I’m delighted that Siemens Mobility can support the Changemakers Programme. Initiatives like these help local people proactively drive positive change – particularly important in challenging times – and I’m pleased we were able to work with South West Wales Connected to create new opportunities for community engagement.”

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Formed in 2020, the community rail partnership covers the rail routes west of Port Talbot to Swansea, Carmarthen, Pembroke Dock, Milford Haven and Fishguard Harbour.  

Its objectives are to develop positive partnerships between the rail industry and local organisations to promote social inclusion, sustainability, health and well-being, green travel, tourism and economic development across the region.

Lead image: Pictured left to right are; Jennifer Barfoot (Community Rail Officer), Toni Cardew (Projects & Impacts Officer), Kevin Rees (Cycling Coordinator Gowerton Comprehensive), Sue Davies (Head of PE, Gowerton Comprehensive) and Cassey Williams (Head Girl Gowerton Comprehensive)

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