5 August

How data is supporting Team Ireland at the Olympics

Following a summer of smart use of sports data analysis, Emma Quinn finds out how Team Ireland is making use of data-driven insights for Rio 2016.

Euro 2016 is over, Wimbledon has been won, the Tour de France has just ended and the Olympics are upon us. It has been another great summer for sport, and the ability to capture more data to optimise athletic performance is making a massive impact globally.

We are seeing lots of great data-driven insights and innovations in sporting endeavours, transforming sport and sporting performance in almost every field of activity.

From overseas companies such as Exos to locally based ones, there are massive improvements in the sporting performance possible from athletes. Exos-generated data insights from the 2014 World Cup were able to evaluate that Germany ran almost 8km more than their French opponents, as well as the teams’ performance levels and even their sleep patterns.

Putting all of this data together then offers the ability to draw wider insights into achieving the best possible results.

Cycling through data

In the recently completed Tour De France, Chris Froome helped Team Sky to win their fourth title in five years. An impressive performance considering the team was only created in 2009.

Team principal Dave Brailsford initiated the concept of incremental gains, looking to achieve many small improvements for an overall significant result based on data-led insights. To this end, Robby Ketchell was recruited as Team Sky’s chief data scientist.

Speaking to Irish Tech News, Ketchell explained more about the value of data to achieve significant improvements in team performance. “I believe that data science is probably the most misunderstood aspect of sports science and that there is a lot of potential for improvement. That’s why I’ve decided to focus a lot of my energy on data capture, management, and optimisation.”

After another successful year on Le Tour for Team Sky, it certainly seems to be yielding positive results. While other teams look to copy their success, Team Sky appear motivated to continue to leverage the value of their data-based insights to continue to improve their team performances.

An Olympic first

In Ireland, another company enjoying success in sporting fields through data-led insights is Kitman Labs, who have developed the world’s first athlete optimisation system.

Kitman Labs’ goal is to enable the evolution of performance through machine learning, computer vision, analytics and sport science. They have demonstrated it is possible to use data to achieve real-time actionable insights to reduce player injuries and optimise athletes’ performance. Jamie Heaslip, Leinster and Ireland rugby international, is one of their most prominent investors, based on his own experience of working with Kitman Labs at Leinster Rugby Club.

Kitman Labs has also been involved with the Irish men’s hockey team, helping them to manage their potential exposure to injuries through data-based analytics. The team successfully qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympics, making them the first Irish field sport team to compete at the Olympics in over 100 years.

Head coach Craig Fulton has described the use of Kitman Labs’ injury prevention technology as “very, very helpful” in preparing his side for its first appearance at the Olympics since London 1908.

This is a great example of an Irish company using data-led insights to offer benefits to a wide range of sports and, potentially, many more sports as well. And it’s these successes that we will be celebrating at the inaugural 2016 DatSci Awards in Dublin this September – appropriately for sports fans, at the Aviva Stadium.

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