MARLOW, UK – 12 December 2017 – While Sir Bradley Wiggins was the most decorated British Olympian to grace the 2017 British Rowing Indoor Championships (BRIC), Olympic gold medal-winning Skeleton racer Amy Williams was being put through her paces by a team from British Rowing.
Participating on behalf of SAS, the Official Data Analytics Partner of British Rowing, the Team GB Ambassador for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics commented that she wonders how her own career might have been improved with the backing of data analytics.
“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.”
THE BENEFITS OF DATA ANALYTICS TO BRITISH ROWING
Introducing Williams to indoor rowing were Steve Gunn, manager of British Rowing’s talent ID programme World Class Start; Tom Barras, who recently picked up a bronze medal in the single scull at the World Rowing Championships; and Emily Carmichael, a 25-year-old sculler, who switched to rowing from equestrianism in 2014. Emily hopes to follow in the footsteps of her father, Malcolm, who won bronze for Great Britain in the men’s pair at the 1980 Olympic Games.
Carmichael echoed Williams’ sentiment, commenting: “I love data, and having all sorts of information at my fingertips. Winning gold medals requires fine details. The margins are so small, less than one per cent, so having SAS’s support is invaluable. We know that no stone is unturned, so when we arrive at competitions we know we’re as strong as we possibly can be.”
Gunn, who coached the Searle brothers to a gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, 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.”
This is an area of particular interest to, 23-year-old Tom Barras, who 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.”
SIR BRADLEY WIGGINS AT BRIC
With two high-profile non-rowing ex-Olympian Champions attending the British Rowing Indoor Championships, Steve Gunn responded to whether it would be possible for a world-class athlete in another discipline to make a successful switch to rowing.
“The rules still apply. We know what an Olympic rower looks like and that won’t change. We regularly, probably every second Olympics, measure all rowers, from all countries, so we know the constraints in which we’re living in. So, even coming from another sport, they still have to fit that model…and that’s before they’ve started training.
“Of course, what they will bring with them is the psychology of being able to perform, and that’s something we don’t always have when starting from scratch.”