How Performance Analytics Helped Optimize Olympians for the Rio 2016 Games

Posted by Alex Slotnick on Aug 22, 2016 12:46:52 PM

What do Olympian athletes and database monitoring solutions have in common? Savvy use of performance analytics.

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For anybody who watched this summer's broadcasts of Rio's Olympics, it already should be clear that data plays a major role in the competition. The Summer Games' marquee sports, like gymanstics and swimming, measure the difference between gold and silver in fractions of a point, hundredths of a second. Consequently, NBC's national broadcast decorates its interface with dozens of data points and visual indicators: World Records, Olympic Records, the scores and times of this heat's athletes, the performances required for any given Olympian to advance to the next round, the equations by which the judges' scores are calculated and crunched, etc. For audiences, viewing data is an integral part of watching these events. 

Less obvious is the way in which other data sets -- performance analytics in particular -- have become vital for the athletes themselves. For the past several weeks, the news has been rich with reports of how technology, big data, and the philosophy of performance analytics have equipped the Olympics' competitors with new, efficient preparation methods. 

Olympian athletes' use of performance analytics in Rio this summer was remarkably similar to how APM systems manage databases. What's the first step? Collect as many metrics as possible and determine which are correlated to excellence.

For instance, in an article at Tech2, Sir David Tanner, Director of British Olympic and Paralympic rowing, is quoted, "The big attraction has been first to be more rigorous with the data we might have – which might be individual rowing performances in the boats, out of the boats, how much people lift in the gym, the progress an individual makes from 18 to when they are with us at 30 or older.”

Such data helps trainers like Tanner understand what metrics truly matter in his athletes' ultimate success, when they get to the competition. "By gathering all data about each athlete," Tech2 continues, "new talent can be compared with profiles of former players, in order to figure out how to make each individual into a champion." 

This mindset also resonates with the ways that smart application performance management platforms approach their task. By narrowing a massive set of potential metrics to a targeted handful, which have been determined to reflect the largest impact on performance, APM products are able to use measurements like concurrency and throughput to profound effect. But the exact metrics that are most useful can vary, system by system. That's why it's important to gather as many as possible.  

Last year, when the Bristish rowing teams were still preparing for Rio -- where, incidentally, they won gold -- Alphr published a more in-depth look at the exact metrics the team was working with. They outfitted their boats and paddles with a variety of instruments, including force sensors, angle sensors, and accelerometry. The feedback from these came together to form a profile of each individual rower; paired with data about their training regimens and their physique, the team was able to form a full picture of what metrics and variables had a real, notable impact on the team's bottomline performance. How significant are these readings?  Jack Mercer, one of the team's analysts, joked "We see rowing as a set of graphs."

Similarly, BBC News reports that the Australian Institue of Sport has formed a database that contains metrics for around 2,000 athletes, updated weekly. For those competitors "where there is really high engagement with data entry, we have been able to provide coaches with advice on training loads that have seen a reduction in injury and illness," said AIS's Nick Brown. Similar effects have been seen across sports, including cycling, and in the production of optimized prosthetic limbs for paralympic athletes.  

Though Olympian competition and high-tech database functionality might seem light years apart, articles like these help illumnate how data can be used to fine-tune performance in all sorts of endeavors. The key, of course, is knowing how to manage that data intelligently; how to leverage the most important metrics once you've got them; and how to apply those ideas to particular situations whenever they appear.

Just as smart data collection, data management, and performance analytics can revolutionize Olympian competition, business' technology systems can make leaps and bounds if monitored the right way. If you're a business for whom data is vital to performance, take a look for yourself: request a free trial of VividCortex today. 

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