SPORTS

Own The Podium's Calgary summit is merging sport's art and science

09/15/2013 07:00 EDT | Updated 11/15/2013 05:12 EST
CALGARY - Mark de Jonge won an Olympic kayaking medal in less time than it takes for a resting heart to beat once.

The difference between de Jonge standing on the podium and not after the final was .031 seconds.

A year before the 2012 Summer Olympics, de Jonge started measuring the acceleration and deceleration of his paddle stroke and his boat with data collected in training from an accelerometer and a global positioning system (GPS) unit.

That information helped de Jonge perfect a powerful paddle to win bronze in the 200-metre sprint.

The "multi-measurement system" project was developed under Own The Podium's Innovation for Gold program, formerly called Top Secret.

De Jonge praised it to an audience at a sport innovation summit in Vancouver last year. The Halifax paddler is still bullish on the MMS.

"The 200 comes down to fractions of a second," said de Jonge, who recently won silver at the world championships in the distance.

"I had one race at the Olympics that was two-thousands of a second apart, and that's like a centimetre. If you're not doing every little thing you can, then you're not going to be working on those millimetres and centimetres that are needed to win a race."

Own The Podium, the organization which oversees an Olympic athlete's competitive life between Games, will host the three-day sport innovation summit in Calgary starting Monday.

The "SPIN" summit is in its eighth year. With 315 registered, it's the biggest so far.

The conference brings the inventions that sport scientists sweat over in laboratories to the people who surround athletes — coaches, doctors, trainers, psychologists, nutritionists, biomechanists, equipment technicians and high-performance directors.

"The vision of SPIN is to merge the art of coaching with the science of sport," OTP chief executive officer Anne Merklinger says.

"What Own The Podium believes is, if you're not in innovation, you're not in the game."

"Innovation is all about trying to find that one per cent factor that's going to bring athletes closer to the podium."

Coaches learning about new technologies is one of the most important connections made at the summit. If the coaches aren't buying in, then their athletes won't.

"You can do all the science in the world and be very innovative, but if you don't have the coach on board . . . then you might develop something that won't have an impact," said Dr. Jon Kolb, OTP's director of sport science, medicine and innovation.

"It might be cool and everything, but there has to be alignment there."

This year's conference covers such topics as overcoming fatigue to perform, the role of the sports psychologist in an athlete's life and aerodynamics in summer and winter sport.

Canada's sport science industry kicked into high gear prior to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

With an annual budget of $2 million, among the 55 Top Secret projects designed to get Canadians on the podium at their own Games were giant treadmills, a cable to catapult speedskaters in training, and aerodynamic bodysuits.

OTP lifted the veil on some of those innovations after the Games. There is still a great desire by OTP to keep ideas and advances out of the hands of rival countries under Innovation for Gold.

Merklinger was stationed at the door of a workshop on the MMS technology last year to shoo away anyone who might be working for other countries.

Researchers from other countries aren't barred from registering for the conference, but Own The Podium doesn't advertise that it is open to them, Kolb said.

The MMS technology is also used in other winter and summer sports, so Kolb didn't want to go into great detail on the project.

De Jonge, who is also an engineer, says there are other applications for the MMS that can help him go faster.

"Last year when I gave the presentation, there were still some questions I wanted to have answered," he said. "I was talking about different strategies with stroke rate and speed.

"Now, since we know more about it, we're going to look at optimizing it a bit better, so we can find out a few more thing we're interested in."

Kolb's annual budget of $1 million for summer and winter Olympic and Paralympic sport is half of what OTP had to work with prior to 2010.

Germany and Britain have millions to invest in sport science, he said.

Kolb tries to maximize his money by developing technologies that can be applied to a broad range of sports.

"If you're not going after this kind of stuff, you're not in the game," he said.

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