Going for IT gold in Beijing

Going for IT gold in Beijing

In our digital age a successful Olympic Games is driven by world-class IT. As the Beijing Games draws closer ARN look at how IT is helping the green and gold.

It's not just toned muscles and the boxing Kangaroo spirit rallying our athletes at this year's Beijing Olympics. IT is also giving us an edge in the lead up to the race for gold and helping to make the Australian team feel more at home in China.

With the Games less than a month away athletes are in the final stages of preparation and priming themselves for competition. For many, August is the climax of months (in some cases years) of high-octane training.

At the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) a number of our leading swimmers have been subject to analysis by not only the coaching staff but also some homegrown IT to help them improve their all-important start and turn times during this preparatory period.

During training the swimmers have been monitored by four cameras capturing every movement at 100 frames per second and instrumented plates - called "Force Platform" - built into the starting blocks and walls at the end of each lane. The technology was developed in-house by the AIS.

As the swimmer pushes off from the blocks and wall the forces exerted are measured by the plates, their movements captured by the cameras and fed into a customised software program called "Wet Plate", which analyses and processes the data for use by the coaching staff looking on with high definition replay at the side of the pool.

The system also uses magnetised timing gates in conjunction with a small magnet in the swimmer's cap that shows how fast they are going.

"We have been getting information for quite a few years about the forces and hence the angles at which swimmers move off the blocks and off the walls, but up until recently we haven't been able to combine it all to provide immediate feedback for the coaches and athletes," AIS head of aquatics testing, training and research unit, Bruce Mason, said. "The latest IT technologies have enabled us to do that. The Wet Plate program basically captures all this information together and enables us to show the athlete and coach within seconds of them performing what they actually did so they can make changes and try it again to see if they have improved."

Getting tech

The AIS pool and system was officially opened in 2006 and has played host to many of the country's great swimmers including the Australian relay squad and the world's fastest 50m freestyle swimmer, Eamon Sullivan.

"We've got a fairly powerful workstation," Mason said. "For instance, when we have the Australian swim team in we might capture 300 or 400GB of data which includes video.

"Races are won by hundredths of seconds. So a start is very important, if they don't get a good start that could be the reason why they came eighth rather than first in a race."

It has taken time, however, for the coaching staff and athletes to fully warm to the technology. While the same data had been collected for many years it wasn't all connected by the one system.

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