Higher, faster, further – in striving to create new records athletes push themselves to the limits of their capabilities. Stadium surfaces promote these outstanding achievements and help prevent injuries. Having the right surface can easily make a difference of tenths of a second when running, and a difference of centimeters when jumping. Innovative sports surfaces provide safe and productive conditions for training and competition.
Since they were first used at the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968, synthetic sports surfaces have become firmly established worldwide. Conica, a division of BASF Construction Chemicals Europe AG and headquartered in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, is the world's market leader in this segment. For more than 30 years, products for the manufacture of sports surfaces have been developed, produced and marketed under the Conica brand. "Today, running tracks are genuine high-tech sports equipment. They must neither be too hard nor too soft. But they must be sufficiently elastic to generate a catapult effect that returns the largest possible amount of energy introduced into the track surface back to the athlete," explains Dr. Ralph Bergs, Strategic Marketing Manager Sports for the Conica brand. Especially prominent among the company's range of products are the running track systems of the Conipur® family certified by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). With this certificate, the IAAF confirms that the running track system has been tested and meets all the requirements for use in international athletic competitions.
For the world's most important athletic arenas, the Swiss researchers have developed the top of the range Conipur® M surface. This three-layer, solid plastic surfacing system is considered one of the fastest of its kind. Like all Conica stadium surfacing systems, Conipur® M is not prefabricated and laid in sections, but poured in situ. The plastic polyurethane used for this purpose consists of the chemical components isocyanate and polyol. The hardness and elasticity of polyurethanes can be precisely adjusted by modifying the individual component formulation. The advantage over prefabricated products is obvious: the sports surfacing systems are poured in one piece which makes them seamless. This means, for example, that rainwater cannot seep under the surface, which offers maximum resistance against changes in temperature and weather conditions.
Installing an athletic track with Conipur® M is a stepwise procedure, resulting in a three-layered finished system altogether about 14 millimeters thick. First, qualified application experts apply a specially designed polyurethane leveling coating onto the absolutely level asphalt substrate and sprinkle it while still fluid with an excess of synthetic rubber granules (EPDM).
The coating sets overnight and binds the rubber granules in direct contact with it. This process is repeated to create a second layer. These two lower layers of the system are designed to minimize the risks of injury for athletes. Tiny air chambers both in the polyurethane and granules provide the most stress-free possible conditions for athletes' joints and have shock absorbing properties.
The topmost layer must be harder than the two lower layers and ensure maximum return of energy to the athlete. This is achieved in a third step by applying a specially formulated, also liquid polyurethane leveling coating onto the two lower layers and sprinkling it with harder, but still elastic granules. Unlike the first two layers, the topmost layer is applied with as few air inclusions as possible. The track surface can be given a finishing touch by applying a final seal coating that maximizes resistance to abrasion, cleanability and aesthetic appeal.
Full pour application of the coating also confers another major benefit: even as it is being installed, a stadium athletic track can have its properties repeatedly checked and optimized. In this fine tuning process, the specialists rely not only on their own technical and chemical know-how, but also consult active professional athletes, such as Olympic pole vault competitor Tim Lobinger from Germany. "I have tested and trained on many track systems during my career. When running on a track I soon notice how much energy the surface gives back and how hard it is. An ideal track is elastic but still fast," explains the top athlete in a film interview about the Zurich Letzigrund Stadium. So both sides benefit from the cooperation: the athletes from a track specially tailored to their needs and BASF's sports surfaces business from the athletes' experience.
For the top class running tracks, a testing institute accredited by IAAF checks whether the technical parameters of the new track satisfy the IAAF requirements. In this case, the federation issues a Class 1 certificate. This allows international competitions to be held and is also essential for the recognition of world records. Altogether, 17 stadiums equipped with a Conica running track hold an IAAF Class 1 certificate.
Modern sports surfaces meet the requirements not only of athletes but also of stadium operators. This is also proved by their service life: Conipur® athletic tracks have an average outdoor service life of ten to fifteen years, but depending on the climate and usage level it may even exceed twenty years. The surface is durable and after many years of use can be cost effectively restored to an "as new" condition by a retopping process. Instead of completely replacing the surface, a new top layer is simply applied. "At present about 20 percent of our sales are generated with retopping, and the trends is rising," reveals the marketing expert Bergs.
With its Conipur® systems, BASF Construction Chemicals is the world's market leader for athletic track surfaces with a market share of about 25 percent. "In some European countries, or in Africa for instance, our market share even exceeds 50 percent," adds Bergs. About 250 sports tracks are newly installed or retopped with Conica products every year in all climatic zones. This is equivalent to about two square kilometers of sports surfaces – roughly the same area as occupied by Monaco. The locations include such well-known sporting venues as the Zurich Letzigrund Stadium or the Olympic Stadiums in Berlin, Rome and Stockholm.
The Info Box
More than just athletic track surfaces
The range of products offered by BASF Construction Chemicals Europe extends well beyond sports and athletic tracks. For instance, the Conica division is also active in the market segments multipurpose facilities, moulding binders, indoor, children's playground binders and artificial turf products.
Multipurpose: From classical types of sport such as basketball to school sports – surfaces are now increasingly designed for multipurpose usage. These all-rounder surfacing systems withstand not only footfalls but also bicycles or hockey sticks and provide particularly high levels of force dissipation.
Moulding: Recycled granules from automobile tires, for example, can be processed with polyurethane binders to produce prefabricated mouldings and elastic mats. These items are used for fall protection surfaces, noise absorbing surfaces and building protection mats or can be used as elastic underlays for sports hall surfacing.
Indoor: Regardless of whether point, area or mixed elastic surfaces are required, it is the substrate which makes the difference. For area elastic surfaces, a special polyurethane coating is applied directly onto a sprung wooden floor, and for point elastic surfaces onto an additional elastic layer. The characteristic f