With just 500 days to go until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, GB Rowing Team Chief Coach for Olympic Programme, Jürgen Gröbler OBE, has emphasised the fundamental role that data analytics is playing in the Team’s preparations for the Games. British Rowing has also been working with analytics leader SAS to improve its talent identification and pathway programme.
Aside from Los Angeles 1984, Gröbler has coached crews to medals at every Olympic Games since 1972, and it’s no surprise that the legendary German understands the Olympic cycle like no other. “2019 is incredibly important for British Rowing, as it’s the qualification year for Tokyo 2020. Qualification is extremely tough, and you meet highly motivated athletes the year before a Games. During this period, you could say that the final stroke counts even more than at the Olympics itself.”
“Being aware of all of our athletes’ data is fundamental to our preparations in the build-up to Tokyo 2020. Since SAS has been the Official Analytics Partner for British Rowing, we have made a huge amount of progress in not only collecting data and improving coaches’ and athletes’ access to it, but also logging retrospective data. Retrieving this data and analysing it is now happening very often, virtually daily.”
SAS has been the Official Analytics Partner for British Rowing since 2014 helping their quest for medals at major competitions. SAS’ analytics software and services have been integral in the development of a specific British Rowing data project known as Athlete Longitudinal Profiling (ALP), which is helping to reduce the time, and streamline processes to more accurately identify and train future elite level rowing talent.
Like Gröbler, British Rowing’s Director of Performance, Brendan Purcell – who joined British Rowing in June 2018 – has an exceptional Olympic pedigree, having previously served as Performance Director at British Triathlon. Purcell led Great Britain to three medals at the Rio 2016 Games, including an historic second gold for Alistair Brownlee and a first ever medal for a British woman through Vicky Holland.
Purcell is an advocate of the use of data analytics and understands only too well the importance of its role in elite level sporting success. “SAS is crucial to the success of British Rowing in terms of demonstrating to us what we should be doing to make the best use of our data. One area is by helping us to understand where our athletes are going to come from in the future through the ALP project. We currently have over 300 athletes in our long-term pathway, all with data that is important to supporting their future transition. SAS is helping to mine that information and better understand it, and, importantly, allow for it to be interpreted by multiple people, rather than just one or two of the coaches.”
British Rowing’s renowned talent ID programme, World Class Start, which identified the likes of double Olympic gold medalists, Helen Glover MBE and Heather Stanning OBE, is being significantly enhanced by the ALP project. It builds on British Rowing’s broader performance pathway, which aims to recognise potential medal winners as early as possible. The ultimate objective remains on making the boats faster at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
One rower who progressed through World Class Start is Graeme Thomas. The 30-year-old from Preston, Lancashire is more determined than most to make the cut for next year’s Games, having experienced Olympic heartbreak in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Selected to compete in the quadruple scull, Thomas was withdrawn from the squad on medical advice just a day after arriving when he fell ill with a ‘flu-like virus’.
Thomas, commented: “For me, as a World Class Start athlete, it’s really exciting that SAS is helping to uncover future rowing talent. Through the partnership, specifically the ALP project, my hope is that more people will be given the opportunity to tread the same path that I have.”