NEW YORK -- More than 17 years of training together, superb coaching and choreography, and good, old-fashioned hard work led Meryl Davis and Charlie White to the first U.S. ice dance gold at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
A good night’s sleep didn’t hurt, either.
That’s where United States Olympic Committee sponsor airweave, the top-selling brand of premium bedding toppers and pillows in Japan, came in.
airweave’s innovative products are made of three-dimensional, entwined resin fibers, with air occupying more than 90 percent of the material. The ergonomic, breathable design and highly resilient material allows users to roll over easily, and maintain a deep and restorative sleep.
Mao Asada, a 2010 Olympic silver medalist in figure skating from Japan, a huge star in her native country, introduced Davis and White to the mattress toppers when the Michigan natives traveled to Japan to perform in Asada’s ice show.
“The first year we did Mao’s show, in 2011 or 2012, she arranged for everyone in the cast to get a free travel topper,” Davis said at the grand opening of airweave’s store in the fashionable Manhattan neighborhood of Soho on Wednesday. “It gave us a great night’s sleep and it was great to use on the run. We became huge fans.”
When the skaters headed to Sochi last February for their second Winter Games (they won a silver medal in Vancouver in 2010), they brought airweave travel mattress toppers, rolled up snugly in carry cases, with them. They weren’t alone: nearly one-third of medal-winning athletes at the Sochi Games were members of teams given mattress toppers by airweave.
In Sochi, Davis and White added two Olympic medals to their résumé, including gold in the individual ice dance event and a bronze in the team event, featuring the top 10 figure skating countries.
“Many Olympic committees use airweave,” Motokuni Takaoka, the company’s president and CEO, said. “We told Lisa Baird (USOC’s chief marketing officer) we wanted to provide mattress toppers to Team USA. Of course, the muscle density of all athletes is not the same, so we supplied (customized) toppers for each.”
Takaoka created airweave nearly a decade ago when he took over his uncle’s company manufacturing fishing nets and lines. After discovering that the resin used in production had previously been used in mattress stuffing, he was inspired to create the mattress toppers.
In 2007, Takaoka brought 40 airweave mattress toppers to the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences, to be tested by athletes. Many Japanese Olympians asked for mattress toppers to take to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, so Takaoka produced a portable version. After the strong response, he ordered additional testing at Tokyo’s Waseda University, as well as Stanford University, to help further refine the product.
In Sochi, Davis and White won gold with a stirring free dance set to Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” the tale of a young bride who postpones her execution by keeping her Sultan husband enraptured each night by her storytelling. But while “Scheherazade” stayed up weaving stories, the skaters knew they needed eight good hours of sleep before tackling the demanding, four-minute program.
“Just knowing when we got to the Olympics, we would be sleeping on something we are familiar with, was incredibly comforting,” Davis said.
“It was very, very helpful to our mindset,” White said. “It’s always challenging to travel to different cities and get enough sleep, and it was so refreshing to have that consistency.”
Lindsay Thornton, a USOC senior sport psychophysiologist, thinks it’s difficult to overestimate how important proper sleep is to elite athletes.
“It is an essential and often under-utilized recovery modality in sport performance,” Thornton said. “When athletes regularly get adequate, quality sleep, they can minimize the negative effects of training and travel-related fatigue on performance, and execute world-class performance when it counts.”
When Takaoka heard about Davis and White’s devotion to his company’s products, the skaters were invited onboard as brand ambassadors. (Fellow U.S. figure skating team bronze medalist Gracie Gold is also a brand ambassador.) The avid sportsman jets all over the world watching the skaters, as well as tennis pro Kei Nishikori; golfers Bubba Watson and Paula Creamer; and other airweave brand ambassadors and users.
“Our product fully supports athletes’ bodies when they sleep,” Takaoka said. “You can change positions very easily, without using many muscles. You can rotate easily. Athletes can recover from tough training and competition.”
airweave has operated in Japan for seven years, with 140 shops inside department stores as well as an e-commerce site. The Soho site is its first stand-alone “bricks-and-mortar” store.
“We are thrilled airweave chose New York City for the home of its first retail store and flagship location,” said the USOC’s Baird. “Our athletes have responded well to airweave’s bedding toppers, and this is an exciting opportunity to increase the visibility of our partner’s phenomenal product.”
The Soho location won’t be the sole U.S. store for long.
“The buzz has been so incredible, we’re adding two more New York stores by the end of the year,” Allen Cohen, airweave’s communications director, said. “We’re also planning stores in other cities, including Miami and Los Angeles.”
Of course, Olympic athletes aren’t the only ones who can benefit from airweave technology. Takaoka, who hails from the bustling Nagoya, one of Japan’s largest cities, is thrilled to bring his brainchild to citizens of the city that never sleeps.
“Soho is full of my kind of people,” he said. “They are very busy, and they need a good night’s rest.”
Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.