The data system behind Team GB's Rio 2016 medal haul
Team GB’s incredible Olympic performance in London and Rio is no flash in the pan.
If there were fears that an amazing record of 29 golds and 65 medals overall at our home Games, London 2012, would never be repeated, they were put to bed in Brazil this summer.
Cutting-edge data techniques were again at the heart of Britain’s Olympic haul, 27 golds and 67 medals this time.
The Performance Data Management System (PDMS) has been used by competitors in a range of Olympic sports from cycling and gymnastics to women’s rugby, canoeing and hockey.
PDMS is available to all athletes, coaches and EIS sport scientists. It brings together data from a variety of sources.
This information-led approach allows athletes and coaches to better manage and understand health and fitness and reduce the incidence and impact of illness.
GB Hockey, whose women won gold in Rio, used the PDMS app as part of its athlete monitoring.
English Institute of Sport strength and conditioning coach, Andy Hudson, head of physical preparation for GB and England Hockey, says: “PDMS has a user friendly interface so it makes it easier to capture information and then present it back quickly in graphical reports that provide a snapshot of athlete availability for training and, longer term, enable us to track and analyse the volume and intensity of their work.
“Having all of the information available and up-to-date in a single place makes it much easier for the sport science team to support the athletes as they are all working from the same data.
“It means the strength and conditioning coaches can use it to inform their work as can the physiotherapists, physiologists, doctors and other practitioners that are also part of the multi-disciplinary team.”
British Cycling was one of the first sports to use the PDMS app to support its athletes in their recovery strategies and provide them with specific, best practice information to suit their individual requirements.
The intelligence gathered allows coaches to monitor and adapt training programmes and manage recovery in a way that optimises their athletes’ availability to train and compete with maximum effort - giving them the best possible chance of achieving their performance targets.
It includes monitoring and input from the athletes themselves, insights and reports based on medical records and the use of the data to look at potential future injury issues, their causes and the probability of occurrence.
The PDMS app is also used to communicate directly with athletes and deliver advice and tips on a wide range of recovery techniques.
Advice is sport specific and tailored to reflect the individual circumstances of a sport or athlete and covers a range of subjects - everything from meal planning and nutritional advice, to tips for minimising the impact of jet lag, or even the best way to create a home ice bath.
Steve Ludlow is principal analyst at analytics, business intelligence and data management experts SAS UK, which has worked closely with Britain’s successful Olympic rowers.
He says: “Sport generally is making more and more use of data and analytics. We only got involved with British Rowing and the GB Rowing Team in May 2014, so rowing has already come a long way.
“All sports, including rowing, are continually looking for different ways they can make those small marginal gains.
“We are looking at new areas, such as biomechanics – all the forces and angles of those forces that are operating on the boat – to see how we can make each of the strokes, by rowers and the crew as a whole, more efficient.”
He adds: “Data is never going to be the complete answer, but making use of the available data to extract insights can only help the various experts within the sport to make smarter decisions.”
The crowds may only just have stopped cheering the efforts of Team GB’s Rio triumph but attention has already turned to the Tokyo Games in four years’ time.
Creating “what it takes to win” models will continue to play an important part of those preparations.
Glenn Hunter is EIS research and innovation manager and has seen first-hand the work that has moved Team GB up the medals table.
“We are already looking at the Tokyo timeline, asking what are the key things that might go wrong and how do we mitigate against them.
“It’s about gathering intelligence to help us make decisions, putting it all together for the bigger picture.
“It’s a bit like working for MI6, gathering intelligence, putting it on the table and asking, ‘What does this mean? And, if it means this, what should we do about it?’”