Olympic gold medal-winning Skeleton racer Amy Williams joined British Rowing to explore how her own career might have been improved with the backing of data analytics.
Williams commented: “My era wasn’t using data analysis as it’s available to athletes today. My analysis was simply a notebook where I’d write down the humidity, the ice temperature and the air, runners I’d put on the skeleton, and the time of day. Those were my stats. That was it. Then, when I was back at the same track, I’d see what the conditions were and how I’d performed.
“Whereas now, if I had a company like SAS involved, and knowing what they could do for me in terms of data analysis, as an athlete, that would give me a huge boost of confidence.
Williams, who won her gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, added: “Overall, the way that sport has shifted and changed to help an athlete perform is incredible. From talent identification to helping them over a number of years to improve. I wonder how much better I could have performed. It’s great to have companies now able to help athletes win more medals.”
Steve Gunn, manager of British Rowing’s talent ID programme World Class Start, said: “We had data in those days, but we used to work on it with paper and pencils and rulers. Now, doing that on computers, we can collect more data and do more with it and it’s getting more and more useful.”
Commenting on how data is part of his role in talent identification, the coach added: “We test people when we first meet them, then we look back at data collected from other people on the World Class Start programme – British Rowing’s talent identification programme, used to identify, recruit and develop individuals with no prior experience, to become Olympic rowers – and the 20,000 plus that we’ve tested over the last 15 years. This enables us to know whether to take them on or not, and whether they have a realistic chance of reaching the Olympics.
“Data is used in recruitment, development, and how we test whether people are progressing, which is important. Ultimately, we’re aiming at getting people to the Olympics, but that can take anything from four-and-a-half years, which is the quickest we’ve done it, but more likely six to 10 years. We can’t wait that long to see how someone is doing, so data gives us an idea of an athlete’s progress along a pathway.”
Tom Barras, bronze medallist in the single scull at the World Rowing Championships, said: “Having access to it [data analytics] at any one time is what’s so good. It’s important to the whole support team. You can pop down and speak to the physiologists about how you’re going to adjust what training you’re doing, or your heart rate, how you’re feeling, even something like urine analysis (so how hydrated you are), to looking at lactate levels and comparing that to how it has been before and whether you’re working hard enough. You then compare that with others in the team, so you can see where you need to try to be.”