03/Sep/2014 - Last News Update: 02:48

Olympics 2012: Video analysis software powers Team GB

Category: Technology

Published: 26th Jul 2012 09:12:43

"Someone kept kicking the power lead out of my camera", says Stafford Murray with a wry smile. "I'm pretty sure it was a rival analyst."

The camera was stuffed in his jacket at a squash tournament in Holland. It was about 20 years ago, says Mr Murray, when performance analysts like himself were a rare breed and the work was a clandestine activity.

Going to sporting events with your camera and laptop was seen as a strange thing to do, he says. Governing bodies didn't like it, opponents and their coaches were wary of it. So analysts competed with each other on the sly.

"Back then, analysis was done in the coach's mind, it was all subjective", says Mr Murray. The problem is, typically coaches can only remember about 30% of an athlete's performance, limiting feedback.

Video analysis is now essential to the modern athlete's training, and most work with an analyst as well as a coach.

As we walk down the corridor to his office in the English Institute of Sport in Manchester, a series of athletes catch Mr Murray's eye, from stout rugby players to lean sprinters.

Heading a team of 25 performance analysts, he is involved in training a spectrum of Olympic athletes. Today he wants to show off the back-room team working with British Olympic cyclists.

"Traditionally in sport science we talk about 1% making the difference between winning and losing," says Mr Murray. "But these days it's one thousandth of one per cent. So software allows us to measure that piece of information that will make the difference between medal, and no medal. It can recall information that the eye can't see."

Mr Murray introduces Paul Barratt, biomechanist for British Cycling, who is at work with Quintic software, one of the off-the-shelf products used by Team GB.

He shows on his computer slow-motion video of a cyclist pedalling in a gym. Fixed bright markers emanate from his limbs, creating hypnotic spirals.

High-speed cameras recording 300 frames per second are trained on the cyclist, says Mr Barratt. Reflectors are fitted to the pedal, the fifth metatarsal joint on the foot, and the centres of the ankle, knee and hip joints.

As the cyclist pedals at full pelt, the movements of these points are recorded.

Quintic tracks and digitises automatically frame by frame the markers, so the position, velocity and acceleration data of the cyclist's individual joints can be measured and analysed in great detail.

This analysis is fed back to the coach and cyclist, and basic things like seat and handlebar height can be changed, to alter the posture, and improve the performance, says Mr Barratt.

"The beauty of the software is that we can make changes during the actual performance as opposed to afterwards"”

The ambition is not new, just the technology. In the 1970s the same feat was attempted using cine-cameras, says Murray. Footage was projected onto a white wall, on a stop-frame basis, and limb positions were physically marked with a pen by hand, creating a constellation of dots. It was a painstaking process, and whole PhDs could be written on one case study.

Software has just vastly speeded up the process.

Mr Murray then introduces Will Forbes, performance analyst for British Cycling, who is working with Dartfish software.

Designed to work with live video feeds, it can help during competitive matches.

Developed by the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne, it has been picked up by international sports bodies like the US Olympic Committee, football clubs like Manchester United, and also broadcasters. The BBC used Dartfish for its coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Mr Forbes demonstrates the StroMotion feature. It breaks down complex actions like a javelin throw, or a run-up to a high jump, into a series of static moments that unfold through video, like a stroboscope.

If an athlete wants to be reminded of their best performance, the video clip can be stored on a cloud server, says Mr Murray, to be streamed to a coach's smartphone or tablet trackside, providing a constant video reference.

But it is the Simulcam, or "ghosting", feature that really excites Mr Murray.

"It allows us to overlay two separate performances, to either look at ourselves twice to see where we we're losing time, or making it up. Or we can compare ourselves to our key opponents in the same way."

He loads up a cycle race in a velodrome. The British bike leaves a blue trail behind it, like in the film Tron, and you can clearly see how the opponent, with a red trail, has previously taken a different route around the track.

With force sensors on the pedals, more detailed information can be synchronised and loaded up onto the screen.

"The beauty of the software is that we can make changes during the actual performance as opposed to afterwards," Mr Murray says. So in the case of cycle team sprints, where there are breaks between races, it might affect gear selection, or the angle of attack round the bend.

Performance analysts will have to do a bit more exercise at these Olympics.

They will have access to the Olympic broadcast feed from a dedicated IT hub. But strict copyright rules mean they will not be allowed to wirelessly transfer footage to coaches at events, as they normally do.

Instead they will have to make DVDs at the hub, or do their own filming at events and export files onto hard disk, before transferring their software-inspired revelations by hand to coaches - relay race style.

Accredited analysts will have dedicated areas to film in Olympic venues.

It is all a far cry from the days when performance analysts hid cameras and laptops under their jackets. And at the 2012 Olympics, it could be their patient work with pixels that means the difference between Olympic agony, and glory.

BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2012. Olympics 2012: Video analysis software powers Team GB [Online] (Updated 26th Jul 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1442825/Olympics-2012-Video-analysis-software-powers-Team-GB [Accessed 3rd Sep 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Horizon: The defenders of anonymity on the internet

    You may not realise it, but every time you open up your laptop or switch on your phone, you are at the heart of one of the greatest battles now taking place in our midst - what shape will the internet take in the future, and what role will anonymity play in deciding it?
  • Any diet will do, say researchers, if you stick to it

    All diets - from Atkins to Weight Watchers - have similar results and people should simply pick the one they find easiest, say researchers.
  • £7m claim over leaking Dartington 'eco-school'

    A £7m claim has been launched against two firms involved in the design and building of an "eco-school" that closed after it developed leaks.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Ukraine crisis: Obama in Estonia ahead of Nato summit

    US President Barack Obama is on his way to Estonia for talks on Russia and the Ukraine crisis with Baltic leaders.
  • Toronto Film Festival 2014: Ones to watch

    The Toronto International Film Festival is set to kick off on Thursday - one of the largest and most prestigious events in the annual film festival calendar.