The 31st Summer Olympics officially opens on Friday. We all know that these athletes have been training hard for the past four years to make it this far, but did you know that science has a pretty big part to play behind it all?

Dr Audrey Duncan is the Sports Science Manager at The Institute of Sport and Exercise. She’s and has been telling One Dundee about the importance of sports scientists. “In the men’s 100m final at the London Olympic Games, the difference between 1st and 4th place was 0.17s.  Sports scientists help optimise performance by assisting athletes and coaches to find those small percentage gains that could make the difference between first and last position at this level.” explains Dr Duncan.

She talks us through the process…

Treadmill Max Test 1

When one Olympic cycle finishes, the planning for the next cycle starts.  The role of the athlete support team (sports scientists, sports medics and coaching staff) is to work together to develop individualised programmes to optimise an athlete’s training and, just as importantly, recovery, to ensure that they are in peak physical and mental condition for training, and for major competitions such as the Olympic Games. Their team will be comprised of a number of key specialists such as:

Physiologist

Concerned with how the body adapts and responds to exercise. Sports physiologists use testing to identify fitness strengths and weaknesses and to monitor the impact of training on the body.  Other important factors a physiologist will consider in Olympic preparation include recovery strategies (eg ice baths / scheduled rest) and the impact of the competition environment (eg acclimatisation to heat / altitude / change of time zone).

Biomechanist

Analysing the mechanics of human movement and the interaction of the body with apparatus or equipment. Biomechanists will work to identify such factors as optimal technique, muscle recruitment and loading and the effect of different sports equipment on performance (eg shoes / racquets).

Performance Analyst

Informing the coaching process through recording and analysing performance. A performance analyst provides objective statistical and visual feedback about an athlete or team’s performance.  We have seen this data displayed more recently in televised professional sports with reporting of such statistics as % possession and shots on target.

Psychologist

Helping athletes to perform more consistently as well as to enhance performance, sports psychologists examine how motivations, beliefs and emotions influence sporting behaviour and provide psychological skills training (eg visualisation techniques / coping strategies).  It is incredibly important for an athlete to have a healthy mind as well as a healthy body.

Nutritionist

Performance nutritionists help to ensure athletes choose the right foods and fluids in the right quantity and at the right time to optimise training, recovery and performance.  At Olympic Games, nutritionists will help ensure that an athlete can access what they need, when they need it and provide advanced strategies for environmental and competition demands.

Do you take it as far as these athletes, or do you exercise for fun? Let us know.

The Rio Olympics opening ceremony kicks off on Friday, August 5th and we’ll be tweeting throughout – just follow us on Twitter to keep up to date.