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The High-Tech Olympics: How Apps Are Changing the Way Elite Athletes Train

February 24, 2014
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The High-Tech Olympics: How Apps Are Changing the Way Elite Athletes Train
Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States in action during the Women's Slalom during day 14 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Clive Rose/Getty Images
Apps like Ubersense and AMP are connecting athletes to their coaches like never before.

U.S. snowboarder Kelly Clark is bringing home at least one medal from the Sochi Winter Olympics — the bronze, which she earned in the ladies’ halfpipe competition. Needless to say, Clark, as an elite athlete, is in incredible shape. And she credits that, in part, to the Athlete Management Platform (AMP), an app developed by longtime ski and snowboard sponsor Sprint, that is used to track the fitness levels and performance of more than 300 athletes by more than 350 coaches. “I committed to this program four years ago, and I’ve had the three most successful seasons of my career injury-free,” Clark told the Denver Post in January. “I can be traveling, and my trainer in Utah can keep tabs on me. Basically, there is no cheating for me when I’m working with this program.” AMP enables Clark to access months of daily workout and training sessions on her smartphone. Her coaches and trainers can also access this information, provide input or update workout plans to help Clark improve her performance, and in turn get her in top shape before big competitions, like the Winter Olympics. “I wish I was a kid growing up now,” said Clark, who at age 30 is competing against riders almost half her age. “It’s a lot different than it used to be. It’s amazing to have this technology and ability to progress.”

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For the U.S. skeleton and bobsled teams, the Ubersense app has been a technological godsend. This app offers real-time video analysis and feedback on smartphones and tablets — a huge upgrade from the tapes, spreadsheets, and notebooks that the skeleton coach Tuffy Latour was previously using to record his athletes’ data. “The app has taken us from the ‘dark ages’ of using a video camera, computer and hours of downloading video to a simple-to-use technology,” Latour told Smithsonian magazine in late January. “[It] has taken us to the next level in getting our athletes the video feedback they need to succeed.”

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Through Ubersense, Latour and other coaches can analyze every second of a run via slow motion, tracing and other comparison tools, and share their notes with athletes almost instantly. With a track that measures 1,200-plus meters, and athletes who travel around the world, this app bridges the technological gap between the coach and the athlete, allowing them to visualize what they’re doing wrong — and more importantly, how to correct it. “For a coach to watch a sled go by at 80, 90 miles per hour and to decipher everything that’s happening in a split second is almost impossible,” said Zach Lund, head driving coach for the U.S. bobsled team. “It’s really helped make my job easier.” But it’s not just elite athletes who are on board. Ubersense has 2 million users across 30 sports around the world — from everyday athletes to collegiate and professional teams — allowing anyone to optimize their training, even if they’ll never stand on an Olympic podium.

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