USA go high-tech to tackle Tokyo challenges

Los Angeles: US Olympic officials are counting on cutting edge technology to help American athletes refine their training and prepare for the unique challenges of Tokyo in pursuit of another dominant display at the 2020 Games.

Wednesday marks the start of the one-year-to-go countdown to Tokyo 2020, and Finbarr Kirwan, the vice president of summer sport performance for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), said the milestone was a good opportunity to assess preparations for the Games.

The US topped the medals table in Rio with 46 gold medals and a total of 121. Kirwan, speaking to reporters on a conference call on Monday, said the USOPC had already fostered sophisticated projects aimed at boosting performance. That included the use of radar technology to aid the training of athletes in the track and field throws such as shot put, javelin and hammer, which allowed athletes and coaches to better analyze data on flight, speed of release and angle of release to improve performance.

“I think there was a realization coming out of Rio that we basically needed to up our game in the use of technology because other nations were getting the jump on us,” Ireland’s Kirwan said. At the USOC’s high altitude training facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado, endurance athletes can artificially experience the kind of high heat and humidity expected in Japan.

“What that allows us to do then is adjust fluid intake, we can look at feeding strategies, there are a whole bunch of things we can put in place to support those athletes,” Kirwan said. “We’re also looking at straightforward stuff like ice baths. We’re in the middle of project with those to make sure our athletes are able to get access to the best quality ice baths that are out there.”

Kirwan said USOPC sports science and medical staff would also work with national governing bodies of all sports to determine ‘appropriate sleep protocols’ for athletes. “We have experienced athletes, but travelling to Asia you need to be prepared for that,” he said.

Amid continuing uncertainties, however, the US team for Tokyo is already taking shape. Haley Anderson, a 2010 Olympic silver medalist, earned 10km open water silver at the FINA World Championships in South Korea last week to punch her ticket to Tokyo. Open water teammates Ashley Twichell and Jordan Wilimovsky also qualified. While America’s powerful pool swimmers and track and field athletes will be tested at World Championships this year before they try to qualify for the Games next year, the upcoming Pan American Games in Lima will offer competitors in some sports a path to Tokyo. “An exciting time,” Kirwan said.

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