Brazil Olympics 2016

Olympics Analytics: How Data Analysis helped Wiggins rule at Rio 2016

Innovation in data analysis has become increasingly important in producing the marginal gains required to excel in any area of excellence, not just sport. In his latest blog from Rio 2016, IDG associate John Steele, who is also Chairman of The English Institute of Sport, talks about how Team GB and Sir Bradley Wiggins in particular have benefitted from it.

I am writing this blog on the middle Saturday of the Rio Olympics, a date etched in the memories of Team GB fans, as “Super Saturday” in London 2012.

As we approach the halfway mark of the Games, expectations are high; the normal steady start to the week has been replaced by a couple of great performance days at the end. Our rugby sevens men’s team took silver, being beaten by a quite incredible Fiji team that outclassed all they played. Beating the South Africans in the semi final was a big achievement for our boys and now the challenge for Tokyo will be how to compete with the physicality and skill of the Fijian team.

A highlight of the Games so far for me has to be at the velodrome in the Mens Team Pursuit, where Sir Bradley Wiggins confirmed himself as the most decorated British Olympian of all time. Many had written off the British Cycling Team after the departure of performance director Dave Brailsford after London 2012, and the recent allegations that resulted in Aussie coach Shane Sutton stepping down pre-Games.

Wiggins, alongside teammates Steven Burke, Ed Clancy and Owain Doull recorded their second world record of the day in the final as they came home in 3:50.265 to push Australia into second place. Australia led for much of the race but the Team GB quartet reeled their 0.6 second lead back in and overtook them in the final 1000m to clinch gold. The victory means Wiggins now stands alone as the only British athlete to have won eight Olympic medals having claimed five gold, one silver and two bronze.

Despite the leadership changes and the concerns around their ability to perform with the loss of their iconic leader, they have delivered under immense pressure. The ‘what it takes to win’ knowledge and approach was embedded in the team and did not depart with the recent leadership changes. The challenge for the future is whether the sport can innovate and maintain the edge they have enjoyed over the last three Olympic cycles. An independent review into the culture of British Cycling has already commenced, but one thing that cannot be denied is their ability to produce results.

Data analytics and modelling are a very important part of modern cycling

One area of performance leadership that has resonated for me over the last week, is the importance of data. Instinctively we all recognise that to perform better than our competitors we need accurate evidence and data to base our decisions on. But this area has grown in importance in high performance sport as technology has offered more and more options for analysis.

UK Sport’s ability to develop Team GB strategy and government investment policy relies on the ability to accurately record past performance and predict future performance. The English Institute of Sport, our coaches and athletes are increasingly challenged to use the most up to date data technology to quickly analyse their own and the opposition’s performance. The challenge is often the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff and focus on the few simple facts that will give a performance edge amongst a huge amount of available information.

So,how are we looking against the ambitions and aspirations for the Games?

Team GB Rio 2016 Medal Tally: Gold: 7. Silver: 9. Bronze: 6. Total: 22

We are on target to achieve the best away games medal count based on performance so far, but sport has a funny habit of twisting and turning the expected into something no one could see coming! For Team GB, all will be revealed in a weeks time.

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