Olympic hurdler Bolo Jones trains while attended by a crew of 22 scientists and technicians, paid for by Red Bull, her sponsor:
It is her seventh training session with the team, and today they’ve arrayed 40 motion-capture cameras along the track. She’s also being monitored by a system called Optojump, which measures the exact location and duration of Jones’ contact with the rubberized surface on every step and after every hurdle. And a high-speed Phantom Flex camera rigged next to the track can zoom alongside Jones and film her at 1,500 frames a second. The Red Bull team calibrates the equipment while Jones warms up.
The resulting hi-res footage is both beautiful and revealing, showing far more detail about her hurdling than the naked eye could ever see.
Jones and her coach gather with the scientists and watch the video to see how quickly she is getting her lead leg back on the ground after each hurdle. “We discovered that I wasn’t kicking down my front leg as soon as I could,” Jones says. “I’m just trying to get down a little sooner over every hurdle, maybe an inch closer on each one. Over the course of 10 hurdles, that’s 10 inches, and when you’re winning or losing by hundredths of seconds, that’s a lot.”
Richard Kirby, an engineer on the project, ticks off other discoveries. They found that Jones was usually fastest on her fourth or fifth trial, so Shaver increased the length of her warm-up time before races. They discovered that her left side wasn’t as strong and stiff as her right, which caused her to wobble slightly down the track, reducing her speed, so now she’s working to strengthen that side of her body. And they found that sometimes she lands with her center of mass behind her front foot, which for a sprinter is like pumping the brakes.
Almost none of these are things that could be seen even with normal video analysis.
Rather than just eating their Wheaties like Bruce Jenner, they guzzle beet juice before a workout, because their team of nutritionists has determined that the nitrates it contains can improve aerobic exercise performance by as much as 2 percent. They don’t just rub Bengay on tired muscles, they follow elaborate hydrotherapy regimens to limit muscle damage and reduce soreness by 16 percent. And instead of pounding out hour after hour of training, they sometimes do a targeted workout of insanely high intensity, approved by their physiologists, which can give them better results in as little as four minutes.
The entire article has just one passing reference to performance-enhancing drugs — as something the Soviets foisted on some their athletes.