Team Canada is using bio-mechanical analyses to help take them to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio
The ripples in the pool had barely smoothed over as the 2015 FINA World Championships ended in Kazan, Russia, when the synchronized swimming head coach for Team Canada, Meng Chen, was already looking ahead to the opportunity for her team to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio, Brazil.
Finishing out of the medals, Chen knew she had to take some bold steps to get the Canadian team to the next level. She came up with a three-point plan – to analyze the competition, strategize on findings and synthesize all the key learnings to build new routines.
“If we want to be top three in the world, we must learn from the best, see what the top teams are doing,
and do it better,” said Chen. Drawing on the expertise of the performance analysis specialists that work with the Canadian National Team, they set out to do a detailed review of all of the routines from the countries that had finished ahead of them. “We wanted to learn from the best practices and to see how we could build better technical and free routines as a result.”
Mickaël Begon, an Associate Professor in Biomechanics at the University of Montreal, is the team’s acrobatic expert as well as a member of the FINA SY Difficulty Task Force. As a gymnastics coach for the past 10 years, Begon brings bio-mechanical understanding to working with the team to improve all of their technical aspects.
Using prototype video analysis software which allows for quick evaluation of the various metrics, Mickael and the performance analysis team studied all of the routines to assess the components. They looked at the difficulty of the acrobatic highlights; the height of the athletes as they boost up out of the water; assessing how many elements were done with all eight swimmers or in groups of four or two-by-two; how many major or minor synchronization errors were made; how many variations of patterns did the teams use; what type of transitions did they use to move from pattern to pattern; what highlights were used; and the overall pool coverage and so on.
Some of the findings came as a surprise. Canada’s 2015 routines had been built with a focus on increasing difficulty, so for example, 75% of the free routine had all eight swimmers in synchronized formation. The World Champions’ routine had all eight swimmers in formation 69% of the time, and the other top countries were less. This indicated that perhaps the Canadians had pushed the difficulty higher than it needed to be in that aspect. The new routines have more variety of formations as well as interesting and creative transitions which will improve the Canadian team’s execution, artistic impression and difficulty scores.
Armed with all of this data, the Canadian coaches, Chen, Anastassia Goutseva, Miho Yoshida and Lyne Piché, used a collaborative, inclusive approach to develop their 2016 technical and free routines. Chen had an idea of where the routines needed to go, but she wanted the team to be a part of the development process. They presented the performance analysis findings to the athletes, and worked together with the mature group of swimmers to create, a more varied and interesting technical program and a sophisticated, dynamic free program. As well as applying the information gained through analysis, Chen wanted the programs to evoke a strong emotional response from the audience.
Chen’s vision specifically for the technical routine was to have the team embody strong, powerful women – reflecting the demanding nature of the sport, and focusing on the need for ever-increasing physical capacity to drive the sport forward. The Alien imagery came early on in the planning as popular culture gives aliens super-human capabilities. And the music blending together unique variations from such diverse artists as Nightwish, Dodge and Fuski, Cirque du Soleil and Xandria soon followed.
Element placement combined with greater propulsion and difficulty with greater execution is a focus in energizing the routine. “We decided to build it even better and stronger to provide a cleaner picture for the judges. In this Alien routine, we really would like to show the different style of choreography Canadians can do – we have more than one style with a traditional Canadian signature.”
This program will be unveiled to the world at the FINA Synchronised Swimming Olympic Games Qualification Tournament, March 2-6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is perfectly suited to the Canadian athletes who have the physical capacity and range in presentation skills to adapt the teachings of sport science and to portray the strong super-hero young women throughout the performance. The coaching team is confident this routine will create lasting impressions with the judges and audiences.