Coach Mark Rowland of the Oregon Track Club Elite is working with Orreco on its groundbreaking partnership with IBM Watson – using cognitive computing and our actionable data to help athletes achieve peak performance. As a former Olympic medal winner and currently in Rio with his team, Coach Rowland is intimately familiar with Olympic drama and excitement. This week he shared his Olympic memories and insights into how the modern athlete prepares for the Games using data and cutting-edge bio-analytics.
“You don’t get many chances to achieve success at the Olympics and it’s still the pinnacle for those sports that participate,” says Coach Rowland. At the age of 25, he competed at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and won a bronze medal in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase. His race time remains a British record. His standout memories of the Games are of careful preparation – but there was plenty of enjoyment also, something the Olympic class of 2016 will also get to experience. “As an athlete, you become pretty isolated from all the attention and anticipation that surrounds the event as you mentally and physically tune into what you want to do. But looking back I enjoyed the process and the intensity of the training and preparation that lead to the event."
Despite the intense build up, Coach Rowland remembers some funny situations – like when he got stuck in a bouncing lift at a Seoul hotel. “It seemed to go on forever as we jumped down lots of floors before remaining static for what seemed an age, maybe 30 or 40 minutes. “I remember a cocky American TV executive who didn’t enjoy the ride so much,” he laughs.
So, what are Coach Rowland’s favourite Olympic sports? “Every sport has its appeal, even sports that you previously couldn’t even be bothered with can hold the attention especially when there is someone from your country participating. You just find yourself getting connected. If I had the time to be an armchair viewer and had to choose a sport that I really liked to sit and follow throughout the Games, it would be the Gymnastics. I just find it spectacular at times.”
As an accomplished track coach, however, the Olympic memories stand out. “I don’t really have a single hero,” says Coach Rowland. “But track and field was always the sport of the Olympics. “I am fortunate to have seen Britain’s Steve Ovett race 800m against Alberto Juantorena in the Montreal Olympics and as a local kid in Sussex, I followed Steve’s rise. There was the whole Sebastian Coe v Steve Ovett era which gripped the track world. I didn’t realize as a kid at the time that I would eventually train with Steve and do my ‘apprenticeship’ under him.”
Fast forward to Rio and Coach Rowland is hoping his Olympic charges can achieve a taste of the special success he has enjoyed. With good preparation, including inputs and insights from the Orreco team, he believes they have a chance. “Each athlete will have their own individual plans that have been tested through the race competitions leading into the Games,” says Coach Rowland.
Nothing is left to chance. “The venue will be reviewed at least two days prior to the main event to identify transport to and from the venue, warm up area, access and call room procedure. We will also have recovery strategies for athletes — minimal workouts prescribed but activation and tactical awareness emphasized with mental regeneration. Professionalism with all aspects relating to physiological, mental-organization, tactical and physical-medical.”
Orreco has also played a role in this meticulous preparation process. “In liaison with Orreco the majority of athletes have discussed and implemented their own strategies with the nutritionist. Fine tuning may occur if there has been any variation in blood profile.”
Actionable data is becoming ever-more important and fundamental for athletes – and in this Olympic year, this is playing a key role. “After the Olympic trials we administered a blood profile to double check the baseline of each athlete. Those results formulated a strategy going forward,” explains Coach Rowland. “At our European Camp, three athletes selected for the Games had the fortunate opportunity to utilize and benefit from Redox equipment. An avenue that we are extremely enthusiastic to implement on a weekly basis into the next Olympic cycle as part of this cutting-edge monitoring.”
“Our existing relationship with the staff at Orreco has facilitated timely and informed decisions that has prevented certain athletes from getting into an acute state of fatigue.” The opportunity to work with Orreco and IBM Watson in the months and years ahead is a source of excitement for Coach Rowland. “It’s a game changer for our group. We look forward to building on this first season and taking the learning to apply this towards the next Olympic cycle, Tokyo 2020.”