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Silver secret behind golden hopes

By CNN's Maggie Lake

British Olympic rowers hope the silver fiber will help them in Athens.
Should Olympic athletes be allowed to use high-tech apparel to improve their performance?
• Olympics 2004:  The greatest show on Earth

NEW YORK (CNN) -- When the world's top athletes take on their rivals at the summer Olympics this month, they'll also be taking on the intense heat of the Athens climate -- and the British rowing team might just beat the latter, thanks to a high-tech silver uniform.

When an athlete's body temperature hits 38C, their performance starts to suffer. The ability to deal with extreme heat can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

The British Olympic rowing team has called on small Pennsylvania-based company Noble Fiber Technologies to create uniforms that will stand up to the intense Greek heat.

Noble has developed technology that can turn metal into a kind of body armor that, unlike bulky sports outfits of yesteryear, feels like silk. It can control heat and odor -- and even fight disease.

Its secret is silver, something doctors have used for decades to resist germs. Noble has come up with a way to adhere pure silver to a basic textile, which allows the fabric to take on the chemical properties of silver.

Bill McNally, Noble co-founder, is tightlipped about the exact science behind the process but he will say it involves nanotechnology, whereby the tiniest particles available to man are used.

"The way we approach the use of silver, which is really what we are talking about here, is different from any other player in the marketplace. We're not a chemical treatment that can wash off. It's [a] permanent, continuous protection," says McNally.

Top scientists and the US Army have studied the product, called X-Static, up close and have given it the thumbs up, which has lead to double-digit yearly sales growth for Noble.

Noble co-founder Joel Furey says X-Static can even improve users' performance and even has healing properties.

"We knew that X-Static had these therapeutic benefits as far as healing wounds and keeping a wound site sterile -- and we had our sites focused on that on the long term and really," he says.

"What we're doing today is taking those medical benefits that you find in a Johnson & Johnson bandage and translating those into products -- like military apparel -- so you can actually wear a shirt that acts as a bandage."

The fiber is not just for elite athletes: Noble has also scored impressive licensee deals with sportswear manufacturers Umbro and Adidas.

Marketing experts say these added benefits will appeal to the growing ranks of "weekend warriors," but Noble is small and faces a competitive threat from industry giants, such as Nike, which are hard at work developing their own products.

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