Innovation in Mask Design to Accelerate Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Athletes’ Return to Training

Thomas Romeas, Ph.D., Institut national du sport du Québec
Faced with restrictive measures on sporting activities due to the pandemic, Dr Suzanne Leclerc, Medical Director at the Institut National du sport du Québec (INS Québec), was inspired to launch a protective mask design initiative to develop a mask suited to the specific needs of athletes training for the upcoming Olympics and Paralympics. 
The goal was to accelerate a return to more “normal” training, notably, one where athletes could train in close proximity to each other.
INS Québec was able to count on the financial support of OTP and COPSI network partners, as well as technical input from NSOs, in collaboration with the Centre collégial de transfert technologique INÉDI, specialized in applied industrial design for sport applications.  
An initial literature review, a survey of existing products on the market – of which none were perfectly suited to high performance sport -  consultations with sport experts and the ensuing ideation process determined that two distinct masks were necessary. The first for aquatic sports (water-polo) and the second, more generic, suited to almost every other sport.
Following accepted practice, protypes of the masks were tested by athletes training at INS Québec. From one iteration to the next, the design improved with the help of judicious athlete and expert feedback.
Significant characteristics of the generic mask: reduced ventilatory stress by means of a membrane separating the mask from the mouth; comfortable straps with increased resistance to mechanical stress; a “suction” effect avoiding air leakage; washable and reusable protective membrane; etc.
The aquatic mask encompasses the same benefits but without a filter, to facilitate water evacuation without the projection of micro droplets.
It would appear Canada is the only sport nation to have developed such protective equipment in collaboration with high performance training groups.
With a goal to provide masks to HP training groups by the end of March, INS Québec underlines the outstanding efforts of OTP, INÉDI, as well as the COC and its private partners who spared no expense in order to speed up the manufacturing of this equipment.

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