Big Data gives athletes extra edge at high-tech London Olympics

Canadian swimmer Brent Hayden won a bronze medal at the London Olympic Games with the help of Big Data analytics – an essential tool used by today’s athletes to get an extra competitive edge.

After failing to get to the medal podium in his previous two Olympics, Hayden and his team set out to fine tune his racing performance through one of the world’s most sophisticated swim analysis software programs created by Rein Haljand, a biomechanics professor at Tallin University in Estonia.

The ‘Swim Analyzer’ software uses race video to pull insightful data from each one-sixtieth of a second in Hayden’s performance from the starting blocks to the final touch of the wall. According to a National Post story on how science helped Hayden to win, the software can identify when precious time is lost by analyzing each arm stroke or calculating biomechanical data like how much speed is provided by every leg movement.

When medals are won or lost by milliseconds, athletes and teams in all Olympic sports now collect as much data as they can using cameras, sensors placed all over their bodies and mobile devices like iPads to provide instant analysis of a performance.

The 2012 London Summer Games are being referred to as the high-tech Olympics as mobile technologies and data collecting techniques reach a level of sophistication that wasn’t available just four years ago at the Beijing Olympics. The first version of iPad wasn’t even sold until 2010 and now it’s essential gear for athletes and coaches!

U.S hurdler Lolo Jones trained for the London Olympics with 39 reflective stickers attached to her body as 40 Vicon motion capture cameras tracked the stickers and recorded data at 2,000 frames per second. A Wired Magazine story on how tech is helping to “build a better athlete” said Jones’ training team consists of 22 scientists and technicians. From watching the videos with scientists, Jones told Wired - “We discovered that I wasn’t kicking down my front leg as soon as I could…I’m just trying to get down a little sooner over every hurdle, maybe an inch closer on each one. Over the course of 10 hurdles, that’s 10 inches, and when you’re winning or losing by hundredths of seconds, that’s a lot.”

In another example of Big Data at the London Olympics, German software and IT systems company, SAP, has outfitted Germany’s sailing team with data technologies like mobile trackers and sensors capable of collecting 12.5 million data points from just one race. The team hopes to sail the competition by using real-time information such as wind and ocean current data to adjust their strategy during the actual race. Watch the video on how SAP technology is helping the German team.

Careers in sport data analytics stretch well beyond the Olympics to every kind of major league sport on the planet. Sports like football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer all have specialists in Big Data analytics to collect and draw conclusions from the most useful information on each of its team members’ performance as well as the competition.

Check out these related CareerMash profiles to learn what education you need and what a career in data might involve:

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