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Behind every modern Olympian there are geeks—titanium-smelting gear wizards whose ideas can mean the difference between gold and goat. Straight from the secret labs, here are four of the hottest innovations for the Salt Lake City Games.

    Photo: Clay Ellis

[ Ice Hockey ]
Bauer Tri-Flex Full Composite Stick
How it works:
The company molded both the shaft and the blade using carbon and fiberglass, and then fused the two pieces together into a single unit. On the Tri-Flex, the typically solid shaft is hollow—stiff in the middle, whippy at the end. Weighing only a pound, the finished product is 30 percent lighter than a wood stick and 7 percent lighter than a two-piece composite stick with a replaceable blade.
Why it matters: A light swing weight spells faster blade speed for more power in shooting and passing. It's the same theory behind hollow aluminum baseball bats, where improved head acceleration translates into more ball speed.
Who'll have it: "Anyone who wants it," says Bauer product manager Troy Mohns. Including you, if you have a spare $180 come April.

[ Half-pipe Snowboard ]
Burton Dragon
How it works:
While the laminated wood-and-composite strips inside most snowboard cores are sandwiched together in a fore-and-aft alignment, this one's laid out in three zones. Underfoot, the strips run edge-to-edge to maximize grip. At tip and tail, they run in the traditional direction, out toward the ends. The resulting board is stiff laterally (for better edge hold) and soft-flexing at the tip and tail for a forgiving feel in the pipe.
Why it matters: Better edge grip means athletes will have a solid platform from which to launch judge-pleasing rotation tricks like the 540-fakey.
Who'll have it: Olympic hopeful Kier Dillon, a 25-year-old veteran who first made his mark at the Gravity Games and X-Games, and who last January placed first at Austria's European Open Halfpipe.

[ Alpine Skiing ]
Deep-Sidecut Slalom Skis
How it works:
Rule changes last spring permitted women to use slightly shorter skis—150 centimeters, as opposed to the 155-cm planks that men are still stuck with. Since manufacturers had to come up with new factory molds, they opted to tweak the overall shape of the skis. To maximize the amount of edge gripping the snow, most companies adopted wider tips and tails. The Völkl P50 Slalom Carver shown above measures 110 millimeters across the tip, 97 across the tail, and just 64 underfoot.
Why it matters: The new deeper sidecut—the hourglass-shaped side profile of the ski—will allow racers to muscle sharper, more powerful turns.
Who'll have it: U.S. slalom champ Kristina Koznick began training on the new Všlkl last summer, and loves it.

[ Cross-Country Skiing ]
Salomon Carbon Pro boot
How it works:
When American sprinter Maurice Greene won the 100-meter gold in Sydney, his spikes contained a stiff, light sheet of carbon fiber designed to return some of the energy lost each time he flexed his foot. Banking on the theory that the material will return power just as well on the snow, Salomon is giving aspiring Winter Olympians its Carbon Pro—the first cross-country boot to use a carbon-fiber sole.
Why it matters: If a stiffer sole can influence the outcome of a 100-meter dash, the theory goes, then all that extra power flowing back into the ski will translate to Utah gold.
Who'll have it: A limited pre-Olympic production run will put the Carbon Pro on the top 30 Salomon-sponsored men and women on the World Cup circuit in both skate and classic nordic events, including Sweden's Per Elofsson, the sport's top dog.

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