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July/August 2008
SpotLight

The Olympic Spirit

Games and Standards Bring Out Our Best

The first modern Olympic Games occurred just before the dawn of the 20th century, thanks to the efforts of Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman who spent several years proposing the idea of an international sporting event based on the ancient games. Finally, the 1896 Olympics, appropriately located in Athens, Greece, attracted 300 athletes from 13 countries.

Two years following the first Olympics, the American Society for Testing and Materials, now ASTM International, was founded in Philadelphia, Pa. The initial work of ASTM was the standards for steel used in railroad construction.

In the 110 years that have followed, the Olympic Games have played a pivotal role in bringing people together through athletic competition, while ASTM International has played a similar role in the realm of standardization. Now, thousands of athletes, playing a dizzying array of sports and representing nearly 200 countries, are preparing to gather in Beijing, China, for the 2008 Olympics opening on August 8. Meanwhile, ASTM International maintains 138 technical committees that have developed over 11,000 standards covering many sectors in industry.

For both ASTM International and the Olympic Games, it has been quite a century (plus 10 years). But amid all the changes in the world during that time, the focus has always been on overcoming challenges and building on achievements.

ASTM International Committee F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities has contributed to the technology and safety of many different sports featured at the Olympics. Standards have been developed for helmets, padding and protective gear, as well as for playing surfaces for sports such as football, soccer, martial arts, bicycling, gymnastics and wrestling. In addition, subcommittees devoted to sports such as baseball and archery, have provided specific equipment tests for laboratories.

However, staging an international event involving thousands of participants and spectators involves immense logistics and all kinds of standards can help. Getting people to a destination (Committees F07 on Aerospace and Aircraft, D04 on Road and Paving Materials, F25 on Ships and Marine Technology), helping them get around once they arrive (F13 on Pedestrian/Walkway Safety and Footwear), housing them and giving them a place to ptay (E06 on Performance of Buildings, D08 on Roofing and Waterproofing) and, of course, feeding them (F26 on Food Service Equipment) and being prepared for emergencies (E34 on Occupational Health and Safety, F30 on Emergency Medical Services) are all essential elements that benefit greatly from standardization. Which is what ASTM International does best.

So when you watch the exciting events broadcast from Beijing, take a minute to think about the thousands of people all over the world who make standards happen, because standards are what ultimately allow events like the Olympics to happen. And, like the Olympics, standards have the potential to bring us together, though we may not always see them in such universal terms.

Winston Churchill once said, “Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.” Both the Olympic Games and the work of ASTM International are great examples of taking the complex work of individuals and giving it back in its simplest essentials, allowing us all to reap the benefits. And sharing this experience — the way a country does when it invites other countries to its Olympic Games, or the way ASTM International and national standards bodies do when they sign memorandums of understanding — leads to growth for everyone involved.

Now in the early morning of their second century of existence, ASTM International and the Olympics continue to strive for excellence and, in an imperfect world, give people the chance to achieve their personal best. We are all better for the continued vitality of both the Olympic Games and ASTM International.