TODAY   |  December 09, 2009

Hockey hotshot shows science behind slapshot

Dec. 9: NBC’s Lester Holt reports on some innovative technology that is designed to help Olympic hopefuls prepare for the highest level of competition as part of a new NBC series.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

ANN CURRY, anchor: So as a reminder, in February, the top athletes from all over the world will be competing in the World Winter Olympics in Vancouver .

NATALIE MORALES reporting: And for many of the competitors, their skill and training has been enhanced by some innovative technology designed to help them excel. And our own Lester Holt is here with more.


LESTER HOLT reporting: This is cool stuff. You will never watch Olympic sports quite the same after this.

MORALES: It's true.

HOLT: It's a unique collaboration that NBC Learn , which is an educational arm of NBC News , is teaming up with NBC Olympics . We're producing a 16-part series about the science behind how Olympic athletes prepare for the highest level of competition. Watch. In a game known for hard hits, it may be the hardest one of all, the violent collision between stick and puck that produces one of the fastest projectiles

in the Olympics: The slap shot .

Ms. JULIE CHU: My slap shot 's at least 200 miles per hour , faster than the pros.

HOLT: To see slap shot physics in action, we went to one of the best and brightest players in the world. Julie Chu is a Harvard grad and two-time Olympic medal winner who will be going for her third medal as a Team USA forward in Vancouver . For this experiment, Chu allowed us to film her slap shot with a Phantom cam, a special high-speed digital camera that can shoot in up to 1500 frames per second .

Ms. CHU: The high- speed camera is incredible. Like, we know that we're flexing the stick a bit, but you might not get a sense that it bends that much under your power or the weight that you're throwing into the puck. Oh, that's awesome.

HOLT: The first step to Chu 's slap shot is the windup; watch as she rotates her upper body until the stick is high overhead, then how she transfers her weight from back to front skate, swinging at the puck with maximum velocity.

Unidentified Man: You get the stick moving first, it's got a lot of momentum from all your muscles and your action there, a lot of momentum, and that momentum is transferred to the puck.

HOLT: The second step is the key to the slap shot speed. During the swing, Chu 's stick actually strikes the ice before it hits the puck. Instead of slowing the shot, it amplifies it by adding flex to the stick and loading it with potential energy .

Unidentified Woman: When you let the stick snap back, it's going to put all of that energy into the puck and that energy's going to translate into the velocity of the puck.

HOLT: The final step to the slap shot is the follow-through, which ends a bit like a wrist-shot. Watch how Chu uses her wrist and the curve of the blade to impart spin to the puck. Like a gyroscope, the spin helps keep the puck stable in flight.

Ms. CHU: When you hit the puck just perfect on a slap shot , it really takes off with some zing and you can just feel it.

HOLT: Especially when the slap shot finds its way to the back of the net. And that Phantom cam really, really shows you what happens.

MORALES: Unbelievable.

HOLT: We used that as we look at some of the other parts of this series as well. And we should also note, we also look at the materials of not only what athletes...


HOLT: ...wear to find that extra, you know, 10th or 100th of a second, but the difference in skis and blades, all the technology that goes into winning.

MORALES: That's amazing.

CURRY: It seems to me that any -- this would be useful to any -- in any sport, to pretty much any athlete, because looking at this in itself, you -- I could think that the athlete would recalibrate, perhaps, how he or she is doing.

MORALES: Training. Yeah.

CURRY: ...useful.

HOLT: Yeah. I don't think -- I don't necessarily think they're doing the physics calculations, but they are understanding what it is they have to achieve.


HOLT: And...

MORALES: More about their mechanics, perhaps.

HOLT: And remember -- now obviously, you know, hockey is a -- is a -- is a scored sport, but a lot of sports, skiing, you know, we've seen people win by just that much...



HOLT: ...and so anything that can find that edge is important to them.

CURRY: Very cool.

MORALES: And there are 16 different stories on -- in this project. Can you tell us where they can find it?

HOLT: Yeah. We -- at But we're also looking at not only ice hockey , but, you know, figure skating and skiing.

MORALES: Figure skating.

HOLT: Curling, which, by the way, I did curling for a story upcoming last week. Much more athletic than you thought. And there is a science to it. It's fun.

MORALES: There is a science.