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Top Secret already yielding results

Own the Podium 2010 program funds game-changing research and technology

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There is one thing that Own The Podium CEO Roger Jackson wants to make clear and that's all of the innovations to come out of the Top Secret program are completely within the international federation-approved rules of each sport.

"Nothing we have done is inappropriate, morally or as a violation of any rules," said Jackson. "In some cases there were restrictions on what we could work on, but in other cases the federation rules allowed and encouraged innovation to a certain degree."

From the start, Top Secret was always about making the incremental improvements to equipment, equipment maintenance, training and competition techniques and other scientific and psychological aspects of sports to give Canadian athletes an edge that in some cases could only translate to milliseconds or fractions of a point. It could be a slightly faster ski or snowboard base, skates tuned to slide fast on the ice, waxes that were developed for the subtleties of our West Coast snowpack or suits and helmets that shed wind more effectively.

Some of the sports science advancements were to equipment. For example, for alpine skiing the University of Calgary developed a GPS system for skiers that could take 20 measurements per second on a race course to allow coaches to analyze where skiers gain speed, where they lose it, what positions and which lines are the fastest. With athletes going in excess of 140 km/h on downhill courses these days the data has been extremely valuable in understanding the sport, says Jackson.

Some advancements were physical. For example, the use of wind tunnels allowed researchers to look at things like body position for alpine skiers in different situations, and to evaluate different prototypes for the speed suits athletes wear in timed events. They created fitness and training routines that targeted specific muscle groups and warm athletes up properly before competitions.

Some advancements were psychological. Researchers looked at things like athlete recovery, the impact of sleep and nutrition and general mental well-being. Every team now has access to sports psychologists that athletes can contact around the clock. Some even come on the road with the athletes themselves.

Another category could be called "environment," as researchers conducted in-depth weather studies at 2010 Olympic outdoor venues to try and anticipate tuning and waxing needs and to prepare athletes for the conditions that are likely at the time of day when events are being held.

"We went well beyond what VANOC needed in terms of weather studies," said Jackson, "while coordinating the ski base studies that we did and waxing research. We want to know what happens to the snow at certain temperatures over a certain length of time, what happens to the ice. We know far more now than we've ever known before, and it's helping coaches, techs and athletes be better prepared on race day."

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