CBC.ca: Halifax researcher hopes to give Canadian paddlers a competitive edge

Staunch stares from coaches aren’t the only “eyes” monitoring the women’s canoe and kayak teams as they train on Lake Banook in Dartmouth, N.S., for the World Cup later this month in Hungary.

New technology on the boats and athletes keeps a detailed account of every stroke and paddle.

Researcher Josh Goreham, a local sports scientist currently completing his PhD at Dalhousie University, has created a first-of-its-kind, stop-motion-like technology for professional paddlers.

The technology provides a real-time picture of what it takes to improve performance, including adjustments needed to perfect speed, stroke rate and position. A sensor attached to the athlete’s boat collects data by the thousandth of a second and provides direct correlations between paddling technique and boat speed.

“This is very similar to motion capture, what you would see on TV, video games or movies,” says Goreham.

Coaching aid

His research is funded by Mitacs and the not-for-profit Own the Podium, which aims to help deliver more Olympic medals for Canada.

For the team, coaches and athletes themselves, feedback from real-time sensors could be very useful.

Through a mobile app, coaches can have performance analysis at their fingertips, allowing them to provide feedback on the fly as they ride alongside the athletes in motorboats.

Currently, performance analysis is limited to a system that delivers data about boat speed and stroke rate post-race.

“I think it is just going to give coaches another ability or another tool to give information to their athletes,” said Goreham.

Goreham said the technology is still in the trial stage.

“Before, we would only do things in the laboratory. Now we are actually able to go out onto the water and get real-time footage.”

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The technology is expected to be ready for use by athletes at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“It’s a long-term goal. Mostly we’re in the validation phase right now,” says Goreham.

Testing the technology

Mississauga paddler Katie Vincent is on one of four women’s teams using the sensor technology to enhance their performance heading into the World Cup later this month.  

“This will help us actually be more technical with it [paddling] and see where during the stroke where we might be losing an inch or two or a degree,” said Vincent, who was training at Lake Banook in Dartmouth on Thursday.

“It will be really cool to track this over the next few months to see what kind of improvements we can make leading up towards the end of August when we have a world championship,” she said.

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If all goes well, the teams plan on continuing to use the technology into the World Championships in Portugal in August and the Pan Am Sprint Championship, which gets underway in Dartmouth in September.

“It’s just a good starting point and it will be a really good test for the future,” said Vincent.  

In addition to the women’s teams, Goreham has also worked with the men’s canoe and kayak national teams, which train in Ottawa and Quebec City, respectively.