Jenkyn helps amateur curlers sweep like pros


By Heather Travis
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Tom Jenkyn held his breath as he watched the Canadian Olympic women's curling team sweep across the ice in their first round robin match-up.

Tom Jenkyn is hoping to revolutionize a curler's sweep with the new EQualizer Brush-Head, which helps melt the ice and slides the rock farther. The design created by the Human Biomechanics associate professor was used by the men's and women's Canadian Olympic curling teams in Vancouver.
He had more to stake on their success than a few dollars on a win – his research was being put on the line.
The kinesiology and mechanical and materials engineering professor sent about 60 samples of his latest invention – the EQualizer Brush-Heads – to the country’s elite curling athletes at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The Canadian women’s team led by Cheryl Bernard and the men’s team led by Kevin Martin used the brush heads during the Games.
“They tell us they can drag rocks further – five to six feet further than they could with regular brooms,” say Jenkyn of the experts lauding the new broom head. “That’s the kind of thing that wins games.
“These are things as sports scientists we can’t predict, but it’s truly gratifying when the pros come back and tell us these things – that they really like the product.”
The newly designed broom heads were jumpstarted by Jenkyn’s research for Own The Podium. With a specialization in orthopedic biomechanics, he was commissioned by the Canadian Olympic Committee to participate in a five-year study funded by an $8 million ‘Top Secret’ Fund.
After receiving support from the Canadian Curling Association, and the assistance of Olympic-level curling coach Scott Arnold, Jenkyn began research in 2007 to find out what happens when curlers sweep a stone across the ice.
“I usually deal with people with bad knees and hips, but we could apply the same methods and same knowledge of how people with bad joints move their bodies to how people with a curling broom move their bodies,” he says.
After conducting about three years of research using infrared cameras to examine the effects of sweeping on a curling rink, Jenkyn discovered heat was not being generated and the ice was not melting, unlike what was previously thought.
Jenkyn and his colleagues Scott Arnold and University of Western Ontario engineering researcher Jeff Wood decided to design a curling broom head that would achieve the desired friction and heat transfer to move the rocks further.
In Jenkyn’s design, a layer of foil has been added under the synthetic fabric on the broom head, creating an infrared mirror, which generates friction and heat as a person sweeps, and this melts the ice to slide the rock further.
The curling broom head can be fit to existing broom shafts and is more effective in heating the ice.
“When you are doing the same effort, same sweeping stroke, more of your energy goes into heating up that ice, and therefore more of that energy goes into making that rock do what you want it to do,” he says.
While a lot depends on a shooter making a good shot, Jenkyn’s broom head design puts more power into the hands of the sweepers to fix the shot after it is on its way.
Now with a licensing agreement with BalancePlus to manufacture and sell the broom heads in Canada and the United States, Jenkyn and his colleagues are able to get their patented EQualizer Brush-Heads, into the hands of the average curler to help improve their game.
“You can spend a lot of time in sport science doing this kind of research and rarely does a product like this pop up,” he notes.
Jenkyn doesn’t take credit for the silver captured by Bernard’s Olympic women’s curling team in Vancouver, nor the gold medals hanging around the necks of Martin’s men’s team because good brooms still require good curlers, he says. However, he is happy to revolutionize the tools of game and give Canadians curlers an advantage at the rink.
Now that the curling broom head has reached commercialization, Jenkyn has a few other designs up his sleeve to put his bank of research data to work.
“Yes, we did help the elites, but this product is going to help the amateurs, the seniors, the kids. For the average curler out there, this will truly improve your curling,” he says.
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