Olympic Success: it’s a numbers game

So, there it is, 2012 is now 2013.  Olympic year is officially over, leaving emotional memories and a heavily worn box-set of BBC highlights.  In Singapore in 2005 after we won the Olympic bid, I vowed that I would have some influence on London 2012, whether it be volunteering or selling flags.   I can now say that we did 30 projects for 15 sports that provided coaches and practitioners with platforms to enhance athletic performance.  The point?  To win more medals.

 This work, and the platforms we created were not quite what we expected when we set out.

Blog version

Between Athens and Beijing, my team at the Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield worked on ‘traditional’ mechanical engineering projects: aerodynamics, design, finite element analysis etc.  However, after Beijing, we found ourselves working on technical performance analysis systems.

What is Technical Performance Analysis?

Traditionally, much of Performance Analysis has been limited to taking video, analysing it manually over many hours, and producing a set of results for the coach.  Technical Performance Analysis uses modern sensors and image processing to automate the laborious video analysis so that analysis is almost instantaneous.  There are a number of features to Technical Performance Analysis: there is a single storage vault for all the data, a simple front end for retrieval, automatic analysis, and feedback of results in an appropriate way.

The simplest and most effective of our systems appears pretty dull:  an app to allow video, data and reports to be transferred to coaches and athletes smart phones and tablets.  The most complicated tracks trajectories of objects in the air in 3D and relays the data straight back to the coach.  Without giving anything away, I’ll let you work out for yourself which flying objects we’re analysing.

Of course, its the athlete who wins a medal, not a remote computer system, but given this, how can I be sure that our projects had any effect?  Firstly,  the performance analysts we are working with tell us the difference our systems have made.  Secondly, the budget we had to work with was pretty small, projects were carefully selected with the help of UK Sport on the principles of value for money and, more importantly, their likelihood of medal success.

2012 may be over but we are now working on systems to help win medals in Rio 2016.  If Team GB is to win more medals in Brazil, it will be the first time any host country has bettered the number of medals won at home.  It really is a numbers game, and Technical Performance Analysis will play a major part.  A popular quote by one of the 20th Centuries leading strategists (Arie de Geus) points the way:

The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.

About stevehaake

Steve is Professor of Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University. He has a degree in Physics from the University of Leeds and a PhD from Aston University on the mechanics of golf balls on golf greens. He has over 200 publications, including his first book "Advantage Play: Technologies that changed Sporting History" due out in October 2018.