Track's the place for tech

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Whether it's competition results, injury and illness trends, or training loads, a growing volume of data is available to use in the world of Olympic and Paralympic sports. With the pressure of daily decisions to optimise performance - made by athletes, coaches, senior leaders and support staff – data is now a critical and powerful tool. Cycling New Zealand (CNZ) recognised the need to streamline data collection from athlete performance and unlocked huge benefits from doing so.

The challenges

CNZ manually collected track cycling athletes' training and wellbeing data from four main systems. After each training repetition, coaches downloaded configuration files from track cycling bikes via a USB drive, uploaded them and calculated performance metrics for the athlete. The metrics were then exported to a summary file, manually imported into Power BI, and joined with reference data (from the other systems) for reporting and analysis. Each coach uploaded these files onto their individual laptops; there was no central place for all data to be uploaded.

Manually collating, preparing, and processing this data to analyse was frustratingly time-consuming. Sharing data was tricky, and there were growing security risk concerns. Coaches needed a central repository for data to be uploaded. They wanted faster, more accurate data and dashboards to deliver improved feedback and recommendations to athletes in real-time.

In a sport where less than a second can make all the difference, the solution needed to shorten the data processing time, provide timely training feedback, allow coaches to focus on what they do best and, as a result, enable athletes to win medals.

A working solution at Tokyo

Fully understanding CNZ's immediate requirements at the Olympics and what they envisioned for the future allowed us to take a phased approach and build a sustainable architecture. Cost constraints meant this phased approach was also well suited. It's a simple solution, done well.

With only 41 days before the CNZ team landed in Tokyo for the Olympics, we created a Minimal Viable Solution in UAT:

  • A central operational data store held data in a centralised, secure location. The data populated into Power BI, enabling easy reporting and analysis via the coaches' laptops, tablets and other devices.
  • We automated the extraction and loading of data from TrainingPeaks, TeamBuildr and Smartabase, using available APIs, into the central data store.

The implementation proved a success once the CNZ team arrived in Tokyo. We even successfully tested the data loads and reporting from the Olympic Village cafeteria! After returning from Tokyo – a true 'tried and tested' environment - we officially went live with the solution. Carl Bradford PhD, Performance Scientist at CNZ comments:

"The Theta team were very thorough in their project design and provided excellent service to deliver us a quality product that will allow us to generate performance insights we have never seen before. The solution was created very efficiently under the time pressures we had leading into the Tokyo Olympics".

Saving time on and off track

Errors creeping in from lack of process have been reduced, and athletes now benefit from speedy access to their performance data – both in training and competition. New dashboards mean that athletes and support staff can have better-informed conversations, leading to peak performance.

The next phases for CNZ will involve Azure Data Factory & IoT, unlocking future value for athlete development and identification across the cycling disciplines, including BMX and Mountain Bike. AI and advanced analytics will help athletes go even faster and achieve even more podium finishes.