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What Olympic Sports Use The Most Mobile Technology?

Mobile & Apps

High-tech training has obviously been around for years and infiltrated many sports. But the London 2012 Olympics is a showcase for how mobile has also infiltrated modern athletics.

One reason is the way the Olympics is a one-every-four-years showcase for certain kinds of individual sports.

In such individual sports – think hurdling or diving – the emphasis is on the athlete to beat a particular time, distance or other mark. Practices basically become simulations of actual competitions, making them easy for coaches to study and analyze using high-speed cameras and/or motion sensors.

“USA Track & Field has the mantra that we are science-based, coach-driven and athlete-centered,” said one of the U.S. Olympic track coaches interviewed in this AOL Autos video about the Olympics. “Just a 1-2% change can make the difference whether you’re going to make the team or win a medal.”

Another example is the Centre d’Alt Rendiment (CAR) in Spain. There, coaches study swimmers, gymnasts and other Olympians using HD-quality delivered to tablets in real-time. The video can also be easily shared via “videoconference with other collaborators or coaches who are not present to discuss how training programmes can be improved,” said Philippa Oldham, head of manufacturing at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London.

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While many coaches use laptop PCs, mobile devices are growing because of their portability and ease of use, says Oldham.

Since you may not see many athletes or coaches using their iPads during the actual London 2012 Olympics, what are some of the sports where mobile and high-tech was employed?

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Swimming and Diving

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) is one of the powerhouses in applying high-tech to sport. Scroll down half-way this Wired article if you don’t believe me.

The AIS has invested $17 million in its aquatic facility, including the mounting of 30 cameras above, around and under the water and a motorized cart that runs alongside the swimmers to capture data on their strokes, said Oldham.

“The starting blocks are rigged with force plates and motion sensors all linked to plasma screens,” she said. “This is to enable the coaches, scientist and athletes to look at exactly how the athlete is performing at all stages of their event using tablet devices.”

One of Australia’s greatest swimmers, Leisel Jones, used this technology to prepare for the Olympics. To improve the four-time Olympian and eight-time medalist’s starts, coaches monitor and analyze her dives into the pool via tablets.

The tablet displays “all the parameters of her performance from the force she pushed off with, the angle which it was applied, her angle of flight through the air, the distance she went before entering the water, the angle of her entry and the depth to which she dived,” said Oldham. Using these techniques has helped Jones reportedly shave four-tenths of a second off her time in the 100 meter breaststroke, for which she is the defending champion.

British divers and their coaches are also employing high-speed video cameras (100 frames per second) along with tablets to analyze divers’ form, said Oldham. The tablets allow the coach review each dive in slow motion on a tablet device and compare it with previous dives.

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Track and Field

For the last six months, U.S. hurdler Lolo Jones has done her practice runs with 39 reflective stickers are affixed to her body. These help the 40 Vicon motion capture cameras capture her runs at a rate of 2,000 frames per second. As Sports Illustrated reported:

Simulations of Jones’s hurdling can be viewed from any angle, zoomed to any body part, slowed to fractions of a second and dissected and analyzed in mind-blowing detail. Center of mass is no longer a general area; it is a calculable point. Acceleration and velocity are not concepts; they are quantifiable numbers. These are workouts, yes, but they are also experiments.

“I’ve heard people say that the track athlete with the best scientists usually wins,” Jones says. That line once referred to the sport’s well-chronicled history of performance-enhancing chemistry, but in this case it’s all about biomechanics.

To be honest, the Vicon analysis software apparently only works with PCs today. But Lolo was otherwise just too perfect of an example of the use of high-tech to leave out.

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Field Hockey

I know I wrote that it’s the individual sports that have taken advantage of mobile the most. But here’s a team sport that is using iPads – the Indian male field hockey team.

The coach Michael Nobbs stores match videos, reports and replays on his iPad as well as draws up game plays and strategies using special apps. An Indian sports performance firm also provides analysis and detailed reports on matches and players to Nobbs on his iPad.

The players weren’t left out. After the team qualified for the Olympics, each player was awarded a cash prize along with an iPad.

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Sailing

It’s no accident that high-tech moguls like Oracle’s Larry Ellison and SAP’s Hasso Plattner have been such huge supporters – and champions – of this sport.

Like race cars, the boats are hefty, expensive showcases for the latest technology, from hulls that glide faster through the water, to location-based analytics that help sailors avoid obstacles during races and plot the best, wind-aided courses.

Sailing Team Germany, Germany’s Olympic representative, is using GPS tracking data from each boat and buoy, analytics software from my employer, and iPad dashboard apps to improve its times.

“We are getting away from guesswork towards factual knowledge, because now we have analytics tools that visualize how the race happened accurately,” Marcus Baur, director of Sailing Team Germany, told SAP News “Although intuition will always play a large role in sailing, we are now adding facts to it and we become much more effective that way analyzing our performance.”

Check out a 3-minute video here which adds mor detail on how the SAP HANA database crunched more than 12.5 million data points from the Kiel Woche race last month and displayed them on the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer for iPad app.

This technology is critical for STG’s chances at the Olympics, said Joachim Helmich, head of STG Academy, in the same article.

“With the current prediction system for Weymouth harbor, where the Olympic sailing will be carried out, we are better than any nation around the world,” he said. “The simulation of the current at the Olympic venue is perfect and we are better informed than anyone else around.”

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Future Sport

iPads weren’t even around at the last Olympics, but they are having an impact. So something embryonic like augmented reality headsets – think Google’s ‘Project Glass’ – could easily be in heavy use by 2016 in Rio, said Oldham.

“Headsets could give instant performance analysis, track competitors and even offer cyclists a rear view mirror,” she said. “Spectators using the same hardware could get instant statistics on each rider or see the race as the athletes do.”

Sensor technology is also advancing rapidly, going into things like tennis racquets, running shoes, and even our own bodies.

“In the future these sensors could used to measure every physiological change in the athlete, sending the data back to a coach who can then advise the athlete on strategy using an augmented reality headset,” said Oldham. “The speed and depth of data analysis, both of which will be augmented by mobile technology, will have a major influence on the medals table.”

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