Luzhniki stadium, Moscow (© ARAF / LOC Moscow 2013)
Branded ‘a magic carpet’ by Michael Johnson en route to his stunning 200m World record at the 1996 Olympic Games, perhaps the US sprinter best conveyed an athlete's thoughts on what it feels like to run on a Mondo track.
For nearly four decades, the Italian company have been the world leaders in track surface design and manufacture and inside the cavernous Luzhniki Stadium at the IAAF World Championships Moscow 2013, which takes place between 10 to 18 August, they will once again hope to play their quiet, understated role in assisting more unforgettable athletics memories.
The track providers at every summer Olympic Games since 1976 and a regular supplier at the majority of IAAF World Championships, IAAF Official Supplier Mondo has no equal in their field.
Yet what is it that sets them apart from its competitors?
Andrea Vallauri, who heads up Mondo’s Sport Division, believes it is their ‘pre-fabricated’ manufactured designs which provides a clear answer.
“Tracks surfaces can either be made on site as a liquid material or pre-fabricated,” he explains.
“We are the only company that manufactures its track surfaces pre-fabricated, and this guarantees that the performance characteristics of the track are constant. It is something unique for top-level competition. All the athletes see the difference.”
Vallauri says that the strength of pre-fabricated tracks is that the material is uniform and consistent – something which is much harder to achieve on a ‘liquid surface’ which is poured on to the track.
“You cannot guarantee the same uniformity,” he argues of the liquid surfaces.
“You cannot pour (on to a track) in one day, it has to be done over three weeks and many things can happen over three weeks.”
Mondo provide their track in two distinct layers – the top layer to aid traction with the bottom to support shock absorption.
According to Vallauri, this approach helps recreate the same technology as a tyre and leads to the best results.
“The top part of the material should be non-slippery when wet and provide good foot stability or what we call good spike resistance,” he says.
“This means that the spikes should enter the surface for the minimum amount of time because the more time the spike enters the surface, the more time will be lost. When you are talking about thousandths of a second, this makes a difference over the course of a race.”
The bottom layer provides the elasticity and cushioning needed to propel the athlete forward.
Mondo achieve this with a unique elongated diamond shaped cell design – similar to a honeycomb, which flex in every direction.
Utilising the very best in biomechanical research, Vallauri is convinced this approach enables an athlete to achieve the very best in energy return and helps maximise an athletes’ speed.
“The honeycomb design provides more cushioning in terms of the foot position,” he says.
The two layers – which measure 13.5mm – are vulcanised to cross link the molecular structure of the different materials to make it more uniform, stronger and elastic.
Once pre-made, the next stage of the process is to lay down the track – which took the Mondo team four weeks last autumn in the Luzhniki Stadium.
More than 300 rolls, each measuring about 15 metres long and 1.22 metres wide (the width of a track lane) are then laid down manually – a vital touch according to Vallauri.
“The human component, let me say the artisan component, is very important,” he says.
“We have to make sure everything is straight and uniform. We loose lay one roll to allow the material to acclimatise before gluing down the rolls with an asphalt-based adhesive. It would take one worker about one hour to lay down one roll.”
Each track is tailor made for the individual climatic conditions based on a stadium’s location and is designed to reach a peak during the summer season (or when the track is most likely to be used).
Mondo’s work in the Russian capital in the coming weeks will not be complete until the final event has taken place at the IAAF World Championships, as their team will be refurbishing and repairing the track on a daily basis to make sure it maintains its pristine condition and look.
“We are always working behind the scenes,” says Vallauri. “Many things can happen that we do not expect like damage to the track from the opening ceremony. Our crew act like an emergency intervention team.”
So, with the track in place, what are Vallauri’s predictions for Moscow 2013?
“Like all events, we are expecting a lot of new great performances,” he adds, "but of course a lot depends on the condition of the athletes and the weather. It might be raining and cold, so many factors go into a top display.”
Regardless of the elements, Mondo will ensure all athletes competing at the forthcoming IAAF World Championships should have no complaints whatsoever about the track surface inside the Luzhniki Stadium.
Steve Landells for the IAAF