Athletes Rely on Gold Medal Science

Olympic training centers around the country are essentially massive science fairs.

In Colorado Springs, Colo., swimmers train in a flume, the equivalent of a liquid treadmill, which allows them to adjust water current and simulate various altitudes.

In Charlotte, N.C., kayakers paddle in an artificial water park where coaches can tinker with water flow, alter rapids by shifting underwater hydraulic gates, and transport kayakers to the start of a run via conveyor belt.

At Northern Arizona University's Center for High Altitude Training in Flagstaff, runners receive analyses of what their foot posture and gait mean for their performance.

Indeed, with eyes on Beijing, top athletes have their sports down to a science, and recent advances in science and technology mean competitors adhere to the Olympic motto of "faster, higher, stronger" like never before.

Case in point: Most of the world records in men's and women's swimming have been set since 2000, with the exception of American Janet Evans, whose 800 meter freestyle mark set in 1989 still holds . A slew of those new records have been set this year, many of them in a new high-tech swimming suit designed with guidance from NASA researchers, which some contend has pushed the world's best over the edge.

Coaches, athletes, sports medicine doctors and other experts attribute strides to increasingly incorporating science into training, whether by using advanced video technology to analyze form, increasingly turning to sports psychology to assess personality, or relying on training centers that merge state-of-the-art equipment with world-class doctors and trainers.

"It's science that allows us to continue to help athletes to perform at higher and higher levels," said Tom Crawford, an expert on human performance in sports and former director of coaching for the United States Olympic Committee.

Technological Strides

According to Doug Ingram, managing director of performance services for the U.S. Olympic Committee, advances in technology are being used in different ways depending on the sport.

In shooting or archery, high-speed video detects when competitors release the trigger, picking up slight movements and, as a result, helps explain why their shots are going off target, Ingram said. In weight lifting, sensors in the floor can measure how much force weight lifters put on their right legs versus left, determining whether they are properly balanced.

Ingram said new Eye on Performance video technology also makes it possible for coaches to digitally record the latest movements and techniques, providing athletes with instant feedback.

"The big advantage for us is that we have 16 cameras between two gyms and are able to record from so many angles," said Ron Brandt, men's senior gymnastics coordinator in an August statement announcing the technology. "In gymnastics, there is a lot of flipping and twisting and angle alignments, and if you can't see all that, you're missing part of the picture. And a lot of the times we were missing part of the picture because we were only looking from one angle. Now we can look at multiple angles and pick up everything so the athletes' ability to make an adjustment has really increased."

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