Washington, Aug 9 : Milliseconds can fill a huge gap between triumph and defeat in the world of Olympic sports. Now, a fluids mechanics professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, has used experimental flow measurement techniques to help American swimmers sharpen their strokes, shave seconds from their lap times to secure a gold in Beijing.
Professor Timothy Wei, head of Rensselaer's Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering and acting dean of the university's School of Engineering, helped develop top-secret, state-of-the-art equipment and mathematical techniques that USA Swimming coaches have been using to help train Olympians.
"This is the real thing. We have the physical system, we're taking flow measurements of actual swimmers, and we're getting more information than anyone has ever had before about swimming and how the swimmer interacts with the water. And so far, these techniques have contributed to some very significant improvements in the lap times of Olympic swimmers," Wei said.
In years past, swimming coaches have used computer modeling and simulation to hone the techniques of athletes.
But Wei developed state-of-the-art water flow diagnostic technologies, modifying and combining force measurement tools developed for aerospace research with a video-based flow measurement technique known as Digital Particle Image Velocimetry (DPIV), in order to create a robust training tool that reports the performance of a swimmer in real-time.
"This project moved the swimming world beyond the observational into scientific fact," said USA Swimming Coach Sean Hutchison.
"The knowledge gained gave me the foundation for which every technical stroke change in preparation for the Beijing Olympics was based," Sean added.
The secret, Wei said, is in understanding how the water moves. The new system incorporates highly sophisticated mathematics with stop-motion video technology to identify key vortices, pinpoint the movement of the water, and compute how much energy the swimmer exerts.
For any swimmer, it takes time to make adjustments to their strokes and practice new techniques, Wei said.