Inventor Spikes Speed -
Track Innovation Runs Up Honours
Calgarian Helps World's Fastest Athletes
From the Calgary Herald
May 18, 1997
By Lori Ewing

CALGARY - You don't have to be rocket scientist to become the world's fastest human. But it helps to know one.

When Donovan Bailey and American Michael Johnson race June 1 at the Toronto's Skydome for the title of the world's "fastest man," a little piece of Calgary's David Grant will be there.

Grant is the brain behind the revolutionary track spike made of materials originally designed for space travel. The spike was used by Johnson when he made history by winning the 200 metres and 400 metres at last summer's Olympics in Atlanta.

Grant is in negotiations with Adidas in Germany to provide the same spike for Bailey.

Grant's company, Omni-Lite, was set up in Calgary in 1993 with the help of a national research grant, to look for commercial applications for new composite materials. But instead of sending his product into space, it flies down the track, on the feet of the world's fastest athletes. Not bad for a guy from Lakeview whose one lingering memory of track and field was being badly beaten in a high school 1,500-metre race at Mewata Stadium.

"Track was one of the sports I was never interested in," says Grant, 43, who received his engineering degree at the University of Calgary, and his masters at the University of British Columbia. "I was more a hockey-football kind of person." "Here, we now know every track athlete in the world, or at least the major ones. Gail Devers called here just before winning the gold medal in Atlanta. She needed some product sent out." The spikes, sold in a variety of colors and with slight variations in shape and size, have the strength of steel but are one-third the weight. Grant says the difference, other than weight, between his product and the old steel spikes is that his spring off the track. The old "pin" spikes had to be pulled out of the track surface with each step.

"Ours compress the track like a mattress and are sprung back out. So the runner gets an energy return from the track," says Grant, a Central Memorial graduate whose staff of eight includes three Calgarians - himself, his wife, Catherine (manager of customer support) and Mike Walker (product manager).

Grant's foray into sports manufacturing began with Nike, developing composites. "We thought of the Olympics and we thought of track and field," says Grant. "Track is probably the highlight of the Summer Olympics. Nike said to us, "If you believe in these composites, why don't you make us some track spikes?" So here we were in 1994, and we 'd never seen a track spike, then all of a sudden we were making products for the Olympic Games," marvels Grant.

Seven-tenths of the track athletes in Atlanta ended up wearing them, in Nike, Adidas and Reebok shoes, including the Kenyan runners. Grant also provided the Atlanta's Olympic Games Organizing Committee (ACOG) with spikes for athletes from countries that didn't have the same access to them.

"Here's a little company from Calgary, that really had a dream," says Grant, whose company was just listed on the Alberta Stock Exchange. "Olympic Games can't put that in your business plan, 'cause no one would believe you!" Grant says the allure in sports wasn't just in its profile, but in the swift turn around time for applications. "Automotive can take five to 10 years," said Grant. "In the aerospace business, it can take a lifetime." Plus, his mother, Sylvia Grant, was a track athlete at the University of Alberta. In fact, a pair of her shoes, hand-made in 1947, are in a display case beside a pair of Michael Johnson's gold ones, in the boardroom of Grant's manufacturing plant in Cerritos, Calif. The $30,000 shiny gold shoes are one of the 12 pairs that were made for Johnson for Atlanta. Johnson kept eight; the other three pairs are in the White House, the Smithsonian Institution and Nike's museum. 

Grant, who still maintains an office in Calgary, says he's often asked how much of a factor his spikes were in Johnson's gold medals. His reply? "You might think '"this is a superior athlete; he would have done this anyway," Grant says. "But when we're talking thousandths of a second ....."

* The spikes were used in 20 gold-medal performances at the 1996 Olympics.

* In Atlanta, Omni-Lite provided spikes for Nike, Adidas and Reebok, plus Atlanta Olympic Games Committee (ACOG).

* The spikes are made from a space-age ceramic material that compresses the track, and are one-third the weight of steel spikes.

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