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Olympic athletes are always looking for new ways to gain an edge over the competition. Whether it’s a special diet, a unique workout routine, or the latest and greatest apparel and equipment, every competitor has those special secrets that contribute to his or her success.
In Rio, some Olympic athletes and coaches (including several members of Team USA) have adopted an unexpected training partner: tech companies.
Here’s an inside look at some of the innovative companies that have helped athletes from around the world train for the Olympic Games.
Can smart headphones make athletes faster and stronger? U.S.-based startup Halo Neuroscience thinks so.
The company, founded in 2013, has created a futuristic headset that pushes gentle electrical pulses to an athlete’s brain while they work out in an effort to boost athletic performance. The technology underpinning the device is called transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, which studies have shown provides cognitive improvement in some patients. Before starting Halo, the founding members spent over a decade developing the world’s first closed-loop neurostimulation device for epilepsy patients.
“This is not your average neurostimulator,” Daniel Chao, Halo’s CEO, said earlier this year to CNET at the company’s San Francisco headquarters. “We think about the muscles for strength and the heart to achieve endurance. We are priming your brain to achieve maximum performance, to be just as strong.”
Halo already has an influential list of athletes on its roster of clients, including Golden State Warriors’ forward James Michael McAdoo, Sierra Leone sprinter Hafsatu Kamara. and U.S. Olympic relay runner Mike Rodgers. The headset recently became available for pre-order through Halo’s site and will begin shipping to customers this fall.
What better way for athletes to improve their game than to analyze their training sessions in real-time? Enter Coach’s Eye, a video app that lets users record their performance on any smart device, livestream their training sessions, and then scrutinize every millisecond of their performances with slow-motion playback.
Michigan-based Techsmith Corp. calls its application a coach without boundaries because it can be used anywhere and accessed remotely by both athletes and coaches. For the average iPhone or Android user, the app costs $4.99 and includes video recording, sharing options, and the ability to add premium tools such as slow motion and video analysis.
The application has helped Olympic coaches get their athletes in shape for Rio and fine-tune their techniques during competitions.
“I can instantly show athletes their form and technique to eliminate disagreement and confusion,” Jeremy Fischer, a USA Track & Field Jumps coach, explained to GeekWire. “This includes everything from the angle of their shin when they start their approach for a jump to the depth of their squat in the weight room. Sometimes l even review videos and discover that my original assessment was wrong.”
The U.S. swim team is riding high in Rio, having racked up a whopping 33 medals. While American athletes have no doubt trained incredibly hard for the international competition, a rather unlikely force has helped some of them swim to victory: the North American arm of German car company BMW.
The automaker is a 2016 partner for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams, and its customized motion tracking system has helped American swimmers train more effectively for the Rio Games. There are two parts to the groundbreaking technology: Motion tracking LED lights are placed on a swimmer’s body along the wrists, shoulders, hip area, knees, ankles and toes so their form can easily be analyzed during training. Meanwhile, an underwater camera tracks the athlete’s movements and feeds them into the company’s computer software for further analysis.
“We are looking for every edge we can find,” Russell Mark, a consultant with USA Swimming’s National Team, said in a previous interview with Bloomberg. “[It] helps provide greater information about what changes in body angles are required and how the body is moving in harmony.”
Concerns over the Zika virus and other tropical diseases have unfortunately taken center stage leading up to this year’s Olympic games in Rio. Thankfully, a startup dubbed Kinsa has created a device that can help athletes stay healthy via the company’s Smart Stick Thermometer—the first app-enabled thermometer to be approved by the FDA. The device allows users to take their temperature and track symptoms regularly using the portable device, which also offers relevant health advice based on a user’s profile. It comes with a companion app that connects to an athlete’s smartphone so they can log temperatures over time and share their vitals with others.
In an effort to keep athletes safe, the company is providing U.S. Olympians with the device, free of charge. The Smart Stick Thermometer, which retails for approximately $19.99, was made available for all competitors and their companions at the 2016 Rio Games.
“As an Olympian, I know that staying healthy is paramount, and that collecting data is a key component for ensuring you’re in peak condition,” Raj Bhavsar, a 2008 bronze medal-winning American gymnast, said in a press release. “With the added concerns of Zika in Rio, I can appreciate what Kinsa is doing to help athletes stay on top of their health.”
Canadian startup RightBlue Labs helps athletes avoid injury and stay in shape before any major competition. The company’s Logit app, which costs $1.39, records and analyzes an athlete’s workout routine.
Athletes can record their workouts using a Likert scale questionnaire that asks them to rank their wellbeing—from good to bad—over one year. This data is then analyzed by a proprietary system and used to prevent future injuries by looking for patterns. It then notifies an athlete, or their support team, when an injury may be on the horizon.
“While the application is a great tool for both professional and amateur athletes, it’s designed to help competitive users who hope to avoid debilitating injuries that can force them out of sports altogether,” said Ronen Benin, RightBlue Labs’ CEO and cofounder told CBC.