2012 London Olympics: BMW Tech Brings Home the Gold

BMW provided USA Swimming with a motion tracking system to analyze a swimmer’s form and technique.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Team USA’s record setting success at the 2012 London Olympics was obviously due to dedication, hard work, natural gifts and ample funding. But, most fans don’t realize automobile technology played a part in driving some athletes to the medal stands.

BMW, a Team USA sponsor and the exclusive automobile provider (“Official Mobility Partner”) to the London Games, contributed sports science and its own automotive engineering research to help the successful American Swim Team improve and execute their in-pool race starts and turns.

BMW developed a first-of-its-kind motion tracking system to analyze a swimmer’s form and technique at crucial times during a given race. USA Swimming put to use a program combining underwater cameras with BMW automotive tech to give coaches data they used to help swimmers squeeze precious fragments of seconds out of the portions of a lap in which they have to slow, stop and change direction.

The BMW Group Technology Office in Mountain View, Calif analyzed both male and female swimmers’ “dolphin kick” within the legally allowed 15 meters of underwater swimming and provide “quantitative performance data” to coaches.

As demonstrated to reporters in London following the success of USA Swimmers, the software tracked six points on the swimmer’s body – wrists, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and toes – letting coaches analyze in close detail those positioning areas to pinpoint the performance attributes of specific body parts of the body.

The coaches could then see how well all all of those parts worked together to increase speed and efficiency.

Before BMW came along with these tools, coaches had to manually count strokes and kicks from the deck or use underwater video footage. Moving forward from the medal-heavy performance of USA Swimming in London, coaches will continue using these tools to compare measurements to performance for individual swimmers over time. By taking the data from BMW’s motion tracking tools and applying them to individual swimmers’ bodies, coaches will adjust technique that work best for each individual swimmer.

While all of this technology might seem like overkill to casual fans of the Olympics, Russell Mark (National Team High Performance Consultant to USA Swimming) insisted such improvements pay off in the water as a .01 second advantage can mean the difference between winning Gold and not being up on the medal stand at all.

“Watching our best swimmers, it’s clear that the dolphin kick is a very powerful stroke that is critical to overall performance in a race,” Mark said. “However, one challenge our coaches face is the lack of a clear understanding as to which movements and technique promote the strongest dolphin kicks. This tool will help us identify and teach those ingredients.”

Following the London 2012 Olympic Games, USA Swimming will put the BMW tools to work building a library of dolphin kicks by capturing the training sessions of strong dolphin kickers who come through the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. In short, the rookies will study those kicks with their coaches to compare their own efforts to the past heroes of Team USA.

The motion tracking tool for USA Swimming is BMW’s second go around with USA Olympic athletics. In April, BMW provided a “velocity measurement training tool” to USA Track & Field. That above water tech provides real-time analysis for improving long jump performance.

USA Decathlon Olympic Gold Medalist Bryan Clay was involved in the testing of this technology to analyze an athlete’s movement.

Both training tools emerged from technology used for driver assistance systems in the generations of BMW vehicles now under development before it all headed to London.