Data analysis, advanced devices play crucial role in training
Smarter technology and techniques are being harnessed by China to enable athletes representing the nation to improve their training and boost their strength.
At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Chinese fencers Wang Zijie, Dong Chao and Lan Minghao finished fourth in the men's team epee competition, equaling the national record.
Guo Li, the team's science coach, said data analysis and advanced devices are having an impact on sports training.
For example, the TRIMP (Training Impulse) algorithm has been used in China since December to train the country's Olympic fencers. The algorithm measures an athlete's heart rate every five seconds to gauge the intensity of training and assess how long an exercise should last. Corresponding data is then analyzed to quantify training load and stress on competitors, and a training schedule is drawn up for the next day.
Training load refers to the impact of training on an athlete. If a coach or athlete does not pay attention to this, a training program may become too stressful or too easy.
Guo, an associate professor of kinesiology at Shanghai University of Sport, said: "Training load in fencing used to be hard to quantify. Coaches often rely on their experience, not fencers' footwork or swordplay, to observe athletes' reactions and assess their physical condition for future training plans.
"Scientific approaches, such as TRIMP and other analytical devices used to quantify an athlete's physical condition, help us and competitors identify strengths and weaknesses. They also solve problems promptly."
Gao Binghong, a member of China's science support team for Tokyo 2020, said the scientific experience of some 100 researchers and experts from the Shanghai university was called on in Japan.
"Scientific assistance 'silently' penetrates training, enabling athletes to acquire tactics, physical discipline and psychological skills for the Olympics," said Gao, dean of the university's School of Physical Education and Training.
China's three-person women's basketball team defeats Japan at the Tokyo Games on July 26. ZHANG XIAOYU/XINHUASince 2008, when a national scientific research team was formed to help athletes competing at the Beijing Olympics, China has attached great importance to the role played by sports science.
Many sports colleges and research institutes in China provided scientific and technological support for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Thanks to technological development, cutting-edge portable devices with a higher level of accuracy were available.
In 2019, the Shanghai Institute of Sports Science, in cooperation with domestic universities, suggested improvements for the fabric used to make the skintight sports suits worn by Olympic cyclists. The institute also used a wind tunnel and experiments to analyze the drag reduction effect of this clothing.
Meanwhile, a smart training system is being used by the national rowing team, recording the athletes' real-time movements, physical condition, and analyzing data to improve their movements, strength and stability.
The athletes' caloric intake at meals is monitored by a smart plate, which controls nutrition.
Zhu Qian, laboratory director at Fudan University's School of Information Science and Engineering, led a science team to support windsurfing competitors at Tokyo 2020.
In July and August 2019, the team conducted field research at Enoshima, a small island in the Japanese city of Fujisawa, a year ahead of the originally scheduled Tokyo Games. The team analyzed hydrologic conditions and provided reports predicting wind and water conditions.
Zhu said: "We analyzed the water surface wind speed and direction data, along with seawater velocity and flow direction at different locations. It's nothing like weather forecasting, as there is no effective way to accurately predict a change in wind and water flow every 50 meters at sea."
To ensure the analysis and predictions were as accurate as possible, Zhu's team used the lunar calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar for its data collection plans. Zhu said this method helped the team with astronomical tide patterns, which have a major impact on seawater levels and other conditions in windsurfing.
Lu Yunxiu, who was supported by a sports science team, wins the gold medal in the women's RS: X windsurfing event at the Tokyo Olympics. HUANG ZONGZHI/XINHUAProgress made
In addition to technology, scientific research has been crucial.
Sprinter Su Bingtian, who set an Asian record of 9.83 seconds to become the first Chinese to reach an Olympic men's 100 meters final in Tokyo, published a paper in China Sports Science in 2019 with a total of five researchers from Jinan University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, and the China Institute of Sport Science. They analyzed data from the men's 100 meters sprint with a case study of Su's performance.
"My (Su's) coach Randy Huntington uses data from (field lab) Omegawave, which takes measurements relating to an athlete's physiological condition, including speed and endurance, and takes into account what the athlete is experiencing, as the basis to arrange training load," the paper states.
After more than a year of targeted training that began in 2017, Su made significant progress with his physical performance, which he had previously struggled with. This proved to be a key driving force for his competitive breakthroughs, the paper adds.
Having trained athletes for more than two decades, Gao, from the support team for Tokyo 2020, has noticed a huge transformation in science support, led by more-comprehensive assistance that integrates services and research.
"For example, to improve the quality of an athlete's sleep, a science team member analyzes the reason for the competitor's insomnia before proposing solutions and following up, instead of just administering pills or nutrition supplements. Team members responsible for nutrition strategies are also required to familiarize themselves with athletes' training schedules and training load to offer a well-chosen diet," Gao said.
Moreover, cooperation between scientific research institutes and universities at home and abroad plays a role in training for the Olympics.
Gao said Shanghai University of Sport, for example, launched some 40 provincial-level research projects for the Tokyo Games, covering sports such as table tennis, badminton and basketball.
In addition, the university has worked to develop devices with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Tongji University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Gao Binghong (left), from the science support team for the Tokyo Games, coaches China's three-person women's basketball team in Shanghai. Photo provided to CHINA DAILYTalent sought
"We are building an interdisciplinary team of experts, while drawing on experience from other countries in supporting athletes at a higher level and over a wider range," Gao said.
"When coaching and assisting athletes requires higher-level skills and qualities, there is an urgent need for interdisciplinary talent for competitive sports and for the development of technology and related research in the field," he added.
For its summer training in 2019, Shanghai University of Sport brought in more than 20 physical training experts to join the science team for the Olympics, adapting to the needs of different sports.
Four years earlier, the university launched bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in physical training, enrolling some 20 students annually, who learned how sports science is used to tap the human body's sporting potential. Collaboration with universities in the United States, Australia and European nations is underway to jointly cultivate talent.
Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in sports performance have also been offered at Shanghai University of Sport since 2019.
Guo Li (right), sports science coach for the men's epee competition, discusses preparations for the Tokyo Olympics with other coaches. Photo provided to CHINA DAILY"Competitive sports in China are in dire need of new talent to support athletes' scientific training－and not only among outstanding athletes," Gao said.
He added that athletes should be encouraged to major in subjects such as anatomy, physiology and biology if they want to become coaches.
"Athletes spend most of their time training. They know how to compete, but lack sufficient knowledge of how the human body works, or why techniques have to change," Gao added.
Xu Jiamin, who has coached China's three-person women's basketball team since 2018, completed undergraduate studies in sports training at Shanghai University of Sport and will pursue a master's in this field.
A basketball player for 12 years, Xu said, "Athletes' experience sharpened my competitive skills, while academic studies equipped me with the skills needed beyond competition, such as training design, rehabilitation and nutrition, enabling me to better lead a team."
The team she coached won the bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.