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AU’s sport biomechanics lab helping olympians to improve performance

As athletes at the 2012 Summer Olympics competed for gold in London this week, researchers in Auburn University’s Sport Biomechanics Lab continued their work mapping and analyzing athletes’ movements to help improve their techniques.

Using the latest technology, the lab has monitored the subtle movements of many athletes, including several members of Auburn University’s 28-person Olympic contingent. The lab’s analysis of those motions can help athletes improve their techniques, which could mean all the difference in a competition such as the Olympics.

“It makes a dramatic effect, especially when you’re talking about performances in which the differences between first, second or even last are just tenths of a second,” said David Pascoe, an Auburn professor of kinesiology.

The Sport Biomechanics Lab demonstrated its motion capture system for members of the media at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum recently. Using sensors placed on a person’s body, the system records the movements as the person runs past a series of high-resolution video cameras.

Patel said the lab plans to begin researching 60-meter and 100-meter sprinters and their training techniques beginning this fall. While the lab has primarily worked with swimmers and runners, the research could be applied to virtually any sport, said Bryan Karkoska, Auburn’s Olympic sports strength and conditioning coach.

“It can be applied from everything from golf to a baseball swing to a pitcher’s throw to a quarterback’s throw,” he said. “It’s almost limitless.”

Former Auburn swimmer Mark Gangloff, who competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, is a prime example of the positive effects of the lab’s research, Pascoe said. He said a biomechanical analysis conducted at the lab allowed Gangloff to alter his stroke, which helped the swimmer improve his world ranking from 12th to third.

In addition to the motion capture system, Pascoe said the lab also researches the physiology of athletes’ supplements and uses force platforms, which can record a person’s weight distribution and gait.

Wendi Weimar, director of the Sport Biomechanics Lab, said the lab not only benefits the athletes, but it also allows student researchers to gain valuable experience.

“It’s an opportunity for my students to grow,” Weimar said in a university news release. “They see and partake in the analysis of how you break a skill down and how you apply your knowledge from class to help someone move better.”

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