PARIS, ILE DE FRANCE, FRANCE – September 14, 2017: The Olympic Rings, which will be placed in front of the Eiffel Tower in celebration of the French capital, have won the right to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. (Photo by Nicolas Briquet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Sopa pictures | Light rocket | Getty Images

The training of elite athletes dates back to the ancient Olympic Games, when so-called gymnasts advised runners, chariot racers, wrestlers and boxers on technique, nutrition and strength conditioning.

Fast forward to today’s Olympians as they prepare for next summer’s Paris Games. Their coaches and support staff follow the same Olympic motto – faster, higher, stronger – yet have the added benefit of thousands of years of ever-advancing technology, now equipped with artificial intelligence.

Coaches and trainers at US Soccer, one of the 47 national governing bodies overseen by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, are using AI technology to instantly identify and track player movements and ball positions. A suite of software tools allows them to examine a variety of human performance metrics such as body position, speed, speed and timing on the field in real time.

“By leveraging advances in AI and computer vision, we have been able to track and examine personalized analytics from a variety of sports to identify the strengths and deficiencies in an athlete’s movement and help them create data-driven training and competition plans “That can help him improve their performance and also their own health,” said Mike Levine, director of performance innovation business operations at the USOPC, based in Colorado Springs, which is also home to a high-tech Olympic training center.

While USOPC and NGBs employ in-house experts in the development of cutting-edge technologies, data analytics, and sports science and medicine, major technology companies are also making their AI expertise available. For example, USA Surfing employees teamed up with Microsoft engineers to figure out the best way to catch waves. They capture digital videos of surfers in action and use AI to analyze data on body movements, surfboards and waves to determine what they did well and what could be improved.

“This work saves coaches and staff hundreds of hours of video tagging, makes it easier to collect more and higher quality data, and gives analysts and coaches significantly more time to analyze the data and translate insights into real-world training and performance,” Levine said.

Creating 3D models of athletes’ bodies using Intel technology

These are manifestations of computer vision systems that use AI technology to reproduce the capabilities of the human brain responsible for object recognition and classification. A commercial application called 3D Athlete Tracking (3DAT) was developed several years ago by Intel’s Olympic Technology Group and is now used by coaches in numerous sports. 3DAT incorporates sensorless motion capture and digital video to create three-dimensional models of an athlete’s entire body from head to toes, which coaches use to optimize and improve performance.

“We can see how athletes move and see things that wouldn’t be possible with the naked human eye,” said Jonathan Lee, who helped develop 3DAT as senior director of sports technology at Intel and is now chief product officer at London-based sports technology company, which recently acquired the system from Intel.

3DAT was acquired by Exos, a coaching company in Scottsdale, Arizona, that trains college football players for the National Football League’s annual scouting combine, an evaluation in advance of the league’s annual draft. “Exos uses 3DAT to analyze the 40-yard dash and help players get faster,” said Lee. Digital video cameras mounted on timing gates positioned incrementally along the course capture data about how a runner leaves the line, his acceleration and speed, and the angle of attack of his body.

The data instantly creates a personalized skeletal model of each player for immediate review. Before a player’s next sprint, a coach might say, “I need you to stand taller or lean forward and give him tips on how to get there,” Lee said.

The NFL Digital Amazon Player and Concussion Risk Monitoring

The NFL itself is using AI and computer vision to improve its Digital Athlete program, developed in collaboration with Amazon Web Services as of 2019. The Digital Athlete provides a complete overview of every NFL player’s experience by analyzing data from their practice and game activities. This is captured by sensors and tags in the equipment as well as hours of video from cameras in stadiums. Computer vision and machine learning systems track speed, collisions, blocks and tackles. This data is shared with clubs and allows teams to understand exactly what players need to stay healthy, recover quickly and perform at their best.

“AI and machine learning are the backbone of the program,” said Jennifer Langton, NFL senior vice president of health and safety innovation. “We are able to analyze massive amounts of data and automatically generate insights into which players might benefit from changing their training or recovery routines, a process that was previously so manual and cumbersome.”

Langton said the AI ​​was taught to identify trauma by repeatedly exposing and processing digital video images of helmets from all angles, then comparing visual information with statistical data to determine which player was wearing which helmet. “With enough practice, AI will become exponentially faster and more reliable than humans at accurately identifying and classifying head collisions throughout a game and season,” she said, allowing coaches and trainers to identify which players are reducing their workload need and which room for more intensive training.

The Digital Athlete program launched as a pilot with four NFL teams last year and is available to all 32 franchises this season through a dedicated online portal. “The portal provides teams with a daily training load and risk mitigation information, as well as league-wide injury trends and benchmarks that they did not have before,” Langton said, adding that the NFL will evaluate the data at the end of the season to produce tangible results from the program to evaluate.

“The next big thing”: twin hearts of top athletes

Another AI-powered technology making its way into the training of elite athletes is the digital twin, a virtual replica of a physical object, process or system that can be used to simulate, predict and improve real-world scenarios. Mumbai-headquartered Tata Consultancy Services recently announced a partnership with French technology developer Dassault Systèmes to produce a digital twin heart that mimics the flesh-and-blood heart of Des Linden, a two-time Olympic marathon runner and winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon ( sponsored by TCS, along with the New York, Chicago and London races).

Des Linden reaches the finish line at the 127th Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts on April 17, 2023.

Joseph Prezioso | Afp | Getty Images

Linden’s avatar organ – created using AI-analyzed data from CT scans and MRIs – can simulate her heart rate, blood flow and oxygen levels, providing instant feedback that can be interpreted to adjust her training and competition. “We want to understand what safe zone Des’ trainer can take her through,” said Dr. Srinivasan Jayaraman, a senior scientist at TCS. Instead of having them run on a treadmill or outdoors, “we can run simulations with their digital twin heart to vary different cardiovascular parameters and optimize their training.”

Linden is no stranger to sports technology, from the online message boards of her high school days where she remotely compares her times with other runners to today’s cutting-edge running shoes that world-class marathon runners have used to break records . “The heart digital twin will be the next big thing,” she said. “Be able to make a plan [my training] Knowing the pros and cons in advance allows me to work smarter, not harder.”

That’s what Linden will do, aided by her digital twin heart, to train for the 2024 Olympic marathons in February. Qualifying for her third-place finish on Team USA “will be a difficult task,” the 40-year-old runner said, “but I’m going to try.”

AI and sports training diets

Although there is no news yet about a digital twin of the human digestive system, AI is involved in planning the diet and nutrition of Olympic athletes. Alicia Glass, a senior sports dietitian with the USOPC, designs meal plans for about 300 athletes with USA Track and Field and USA Swimming, a labor-intensive, handwritten task made easier by an AI-powered app called Notemeal. “They collected data from 37 nutritionists from professional sports teams and organizations and used those datasets to create individualized nutrition plans,” she said. “The added value is that it is a network of sports nutritionists who work with the best athletes in the world.”

Glass still relies on her professional skills to understand each athlete’s competitions, their training plans and goals, as well as their genetics, muscle mass and metabolic rate. Even athletes who train and compete in the same events require completely individual nutrition plans, she said. “Notemeal makes this process much easier,” she said.

The athletes access Notemeal via a smartphone app. “I press a switch on my phone and they get a text message saying a meal has been prepared for you,” Glass said, adding that the app also uses AI to design personalized shopping lists and recipes.

Glass won’t claim that high-tech nutrition planning will win medals in Paris next summer, but “many athletes would admit that it improves their lifestyle because they are more aware of their personal energy needs.”

Linden says there is no turning back from the increasing role of technology in the lives of elite athletes. “Let’s just personalize the training and make sure we get maximum results without setbacks from overuse,” she said.

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