Built for Impact: How Olympic Safety Helmets Protect Athletes

As U.S. Olympic cyclist Sarah Hammer whizzes around the track at London's Velodrome this weekend, and boxer Quanitta (Queen) Underwood serves up punches in her bouts, they'll have something in common with countless other Olympians, from horseback riders to kayakers — all will need to wear helmets to protect their heads from injury.

"It does get rough in there," Underwood said, referring to the boxing ring. "Sometimes you have to get wild and get crazy," she said in an interview with the National Science Foundation (NSF).

For Olympians, safety helmets must be designed to not only withstand falls and blows, but also to protect without interfering with the athlete's performance. 

The helmets worn by Olympians vary. A boxer's helmet, for example, must protect against multiple blows, while a horseback rider's headgear has to protect against a single impact, such as a fall. Cyclists' helmets have to be designed with air resistance in mind.

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