How will the Tokyo Olympics drive changes in elite Performance Analysis services in years to come?

The Tokyo Olympic Games were always going to be a spectacle of innovation and a shop window for what is to come in the world of entertainment, technology and sustainability. The Tokyo Organising Committee’s vision of “Discover Tomorrow” will showcase examples of renewable energies and alternative ways of powering our living whilst trying to achieve the most innovative Games in history. The Olympic and Paralympic Cauldrons will be fuelled by hydrogen technology for the first time, the same as their cars, and the sustainable cardboard beds are making the headlines too. With the pandemic forcing a no-fan Olympiad and technology companies bringing forward the availability of their shiny new gadgets to enhance fan engagement, the innovation landscape has pulled us closer to new ways of working that will have a direct impact on the world of Sport Science and Performance Analysis.

Tokyo 2020 sees a seismic shift in video production capabilities, as the OBS (Olympic Broadcast Services) are ditching the use of Serial Digital Interface (SDI) after 15 years and moving to Internet Protocol (IP) cameras with cloud infrastructure to facilitate distribution. This setup, supported by Alibaba Cloud, enhances the distribution and control of vast volumes of content; including the capability for broadcasters to stream video in 4K HDR (High Dynamic Range) while utilising their own colour grading preferences that impact the colour range and richness to intensify the user experience. Japanese broadcasters are rolling out video in Super High Definition with 8K resolution. NBC will simultaneously produce 1080p HDR and 1080i versions of the Opening and Closing ceremonies, using Avid’s Media Composer, to create multiple versions of broadcast that gives greater flexibility of video production to both TV and social media.

NBC Sports Group Olympic Control Room based in Stamford, Connecticut

The new OBS setup features Multi Clip Feeds (MCFs) that allow broadcasters such as NBC to distribute live content to TV whilst digital/social media teams take advantage of other video formats such as super slow motion footage, for additional viewing content on other platforms. In a performance setup, the use of IP cameras, cloud services and MCFs will enhance the use of video, for example, by providing an Analyst with a high view of the field of play used to tag with, whilst a Physiotherapist can watch multi-angle slow-motion video of incidents and potential injuries in real-time. IP cameras are not new to Performance Analysts, however the technologies on display at Tokyo point to a setup whereby an Analyst can process high volumes of high resolution video in the cloud to multiple people with varying needs at pace, and this has huge implications in performance sport. This level of computational power in the cloud to process higher quality footage will significantly enhance capabilities of computer vision technologies, enabling faster pixel recognition speeds as well as increased accuracy and reliability. The cloud service therefore creates opportunities for a smoother and more robust delivery of live video/data to Analysts, Coaches and other practitioners at the side, helping them to make those informed in-game decisions with greater certainty.

The utilisation of Computer Vision and AI technologies for movement tracking is ever growing too. Implementing sensors and trackers on equipment or athletes can be tricky. Beyond the need to find a suitable and comfortable place for the tracking device, you can only collect data on your own athlete or team, which makes it difficult to understand and benchmark standards, or complete opponent analysis. In Tokyo, Intel are teaming up with Alibaba for their 3D tracking tool that generates a 3D Mesh and enables coaches to look at real-time biomechanical data; performance data that would be incredibly difficult to obtain in a lab based environment, let alone real-world. This will add new dimensions of understanding to a coach/practitioner, as well as providing new insight to the sports fan.

Panasonic are introducing biometric data to Archery fans, a first at the Olympics. This technology can detect an athlete’s heart rate and calculate their stress levels from facial images. The Contact Vital Sensing technology detects minute changes in skin colour caused by a beating heart. As a spectator this will certainly add drama and tension to sports that require a quiet environment and plenty of nerve to execute their shot perfectly, like Archery or Shooting. From a performance perspective, measuring heart rate and stress levels can unlock a deeper understanding of how athletes prepare and what they’re doing during setup or execution, ultimately pinpointing where gains can be made in areas such as routine, quiet eye and athlete psychology.

Tokyo 2020 will undoubtedly throw up many more examples of cool graphics, interesting data points and ways for fans to interact with the content they are viewing, but the added value for an analyst will be spotting these technological advancements that will make an impact to an athlete or team environment in years to come. Cloud services are a predominantly untapped resource, however the availability, speed, security, and reduction in costs are making cloud infrastructure more accessible and in turn, enabling the analyst to perform tasks at a higher level than ever before. Computer Vision and AI capabilities will accelerate understanding and delivery of data across multiple sports with huge impacts across interdisciplinary teams, supported with Performance Analysis services underpinning the utilisation of data capture, transformation and connectivity across the sport science remit. 

Bring on the Games!

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