‘Top secret’ technology to lend US swimmers edge at Beijing

August 9th, 2008 - 11:43 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 9 (IANS) A mere split second can spell the difference between success or failure at the Olympics, prompting more trainers and athletes to look towards technology to get an edge in the competition. A professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is using experimental flow measurement techniques to help American swimmers sharpen their strokes, shave seconds from their lap times, and race toward a gold medal in Beijing this summer.

Timothy Wei, acting dean of the Institute’s School of Engineering, helped develop top-secret, state-of-the-art equipment and mathematical techniques that American swimming coaches have been using to help train Olympians.

“This is the real thing,” Wei said. “We have the physical system, we’re taking flow measurements of actual swimmers, and we’re getting more information than anyone has ever had before about swimming and how the swimmer interacts with the water.

“And so far, these techniques have contributed to some very significant improvements in the lap times of Olympic swimmers.”

In years past, swimming coaches have used computer modelling and simulation to hone the techniques of athletes. But Wei developed state-of-the-art water flow diagnostic technologies, modifying and combining force measurement tools developed for aerospace research to create a robust training tool that reports swimmer’s performance in real time.

“This project moved the swimming world beyond the observational into scientific fact,” said US swimming coach Sean Hutchison. “The knowledge gained gave me the foundation for which every technical stroke change in preparation for the Beijing Olympics was based.”

The secret, Wei said, is in understanding how the water moves. The new system incorporates highly sophisticated mathematics with stop-motion video technology to identify key vortices, pinpoint the movement of the water, and compute how much energy the swimmer exerts.

“You have to know the flow,” Wei said. “To see how a swimmer’s motion affects the flow, you need to know how much force the swimmer is producing, and how that force impacts the water.”

Wei is also currently working with the US Olympic skiing team and looking at new flow measurement techniques to help shave precious milliseconds off downhill times.

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