It’s most likely the very first such alliance between a national Olympic organization and a software vendor, according to Chris Overholt CEO and secretary general of the COC.
“SAS, as the world leading analytics company, will provide the technology and expertise to drive data-driven decision making in order to boost athlete performances at future Games,” he said during today’s announcement in Toronto. “We are thrilled to work with SAS to help our athletes win more medals.”
The idea is to use the power of data to give athletes and coaches an “extra advantage” in maximizing their performance outcomes, explained Cameron Dow, president of SAS Canada.
Overholt and Dow made the announcement together with Canadian Olympic bobsleigh athlete Heather Moyse, a two-time Olympic champion; Adam van Koeverden, canoer and kayaker, and four-time Olympic medalist; and Mark Tewksbury, swimmer, and three-time Olympic medalist.
Click on the image below to hear Heather and Adam talk about how the train and what they expect data analytics can do for athletes’ performance.
Using its analytics platform, SAS will assist the COC and national sports federations in drawing insights from data gathered from athletes’ training and performances. These insights will be used to project scenarios and alternative ways for athletes to do what they normally do. For instance, changes can be made to the typical motions made by an athlete to execute a task. Fine-tuning these motions could result in enhanced performance.
The data generated will enable sports leaders and coaches to better allocate finite resources to yield the best results possible, identify the most promising athletes, and pinpoint the key factors that will enhance training programs and ultimately improve athlete performances at games and help them win more medals, said Overholt.
Collecting data for later analysis with the goal of improving an athlete is nothing new, according to Mark Tewksbury.
“Back in my days in the 1990’s, during training, we kept a close watch on heart rate. The goal was tp keep your heart rate at 180 beats per minute for about an hour,” he said. “But we were pretty low-tech then. When you got out of the water a person would put his fingers to your throat and count your pulse.”
Today, he said, all manners of sensors are employed to track an athlete’s vital signs.
“But having information is not much use if you don’t know what it is telling you,” according to Dow. “You need to be able to analyze the data so that you can gain insight from it. It is the insight that will help people make decisions and come up with a game plan.”
Moyse agrees. According to her, her sport is a game that is lost in matters of centimetres and five one-hundredths of a second. The Vancouver-native finished in fourth place in the two-man bobsleigh event, missing bronze by five one-hundredths of a second behind the host Italian team, at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
“Precision is very important. If I place my foot just centimetres away from where it should be, I won’t be able to generate the full amount of force I need to propel the bobsleigh,” she said.
Up until now, Moyse said, analyzing athlete performance mainly entailed “watching videos over and over again in slow motion.”
“…I am not a data scientist, but I believe analytics can help us understand information so that we can improve how we do things,” she said.
For Van Koeverden it’s about building athlete’s confidence.
He said he started out practicing with a “Timex watch” strapped on to a wooden canoe to time his laps.“Today, there are still some kayakers who use a Timex watch, but we also have other sensors and GPS devices connected to the kayak to ensure we’re moving in a straight line.”
“Knowing that you are paddling the right way and that the paddle is striking the water at the right moment is crucial,” Van Koeverden said. “If I have the technology that can guide me to paddle accurately every time that builds my confidence…and confidence means a lot.”
The SAS-COC partnership aims to transform the national Olympic body into a data-driven organization equipped with fact-based decision-making capabilities.
This partnership will also lead to the formation of an analytics advisory council comprised of skilled data analysts and sports experts who will explore the best ways to use analytics to win more medals for Canada, said Dow.
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