Team Canada posing in Beijing
Tech Talk
3 December, 2021

Analysts work behind the screens to help optimize athletes’ performance

It’s an early morning on Lake Banook in Dartmouth and Josh Goreham places a small sensor on the back of a kayak. It’s an inertial measuring unit with GPS that will assess the boat’s movement as the athlete paddles. With every stroke, it clocks acceleration, velocity, drag, rotation, and position. Data collected, he runs it through a software program. “I can paint a picture, make a report, and provide it to the coach and athlete immediately after practice,” Goreham says. And they can learn from it.

Goreham is a performance analyst who joined the CSI Atlantic team in 2013. Elite athletes, coaches, and sport scientists work with him to enhance sports performance with data. He’s also a PhD candidate at Dalhousie University, researching the use of biomechanics to enhance sports performance.

Devices like these are becoming ubiquitous nowadays — they provide invaluable data that professional athletes and coaches use to optimize performance. “There's pretty much a sensor for every single thing you can imagine now,” Goreham says. Combined with race footage, athletes can actually see the data and consider: What do I need to do better next time? Is this my most optimal pacing profile?

This summer, Goreham went to his first Olympic Games in Tokyo with the Canadian Olympic Committee. As one of five performance technology and analysis specialists from across Canada, he was tapped for requests — little and big — from pretty much every sport. 

In judo, coaches used live video to scout the athlete to fight next. Artistic gymnasts, like Ellie Black, were filmed during their “pre-meet” apparatus training and studied the footage before they performed for judges. Video footage provided crucial information for the men’s 4x100-metre relay final, where baton exchanges were analyzed in case a team goes out of their lane. Plus, he practiced his speciality with the kayak team. 

Back in Canada, performance analyst intern Sarah Remedios was at work, too. She helped Goreham process data while he was in Tokyo. She received kayak data sent via email, and plotted distance by velocity measures for each country. “Telling a story with data is pretty exciting,” she says. The time change worked to their advantage; Remedios worked while Goreham was asleep, and sent reports back before sunrise.

How does our country stack up next to the competition? “Canada is definitely leading the way,” he says, along with Great Britain, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, the US, and Australia. “Those countries are really innovating, but we’re right there with them.” In years prior at the Games, mainly the wealthier countries had tech. “But now, every athlete on the water has that,” Goreham says of the canoe kayak sprinters. 

The past 10 years has seen a huge technology boom. Back in 2006, VHS tapes and DVDs were tech go-tos. Now, the cloud reigns supreme. “You can just imagine how much technology has changed from literally starting and stopping video tapes, to clipping as it happens live and uploading it to the cloud for coaches and other analysts to look at.” 

As for the future of tech in sport? Expect more artificial intelligence, meticulous precision, and sharper accuracy as uber sophisticated tech is thought up. By Los Angeles 2028, we could see markerless motion capture cameras that are currently used in hockey games. “Technology’s getting better. Who knows what’s next, to be honest.”