POSTED: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 10:00pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 12:18am
SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA — Far from the eyes of the worldwide media and legions of fans that have been putting increasing focus on USA Track & Field star Lolo Jones this year, a different kind of lens has been setting its sights on her form. Using 3D motion capture technology, Red Bull Project X centered on a secret high performance training program over four months to help pinpoint and perfect Lolo’s training in a manner never done before for track and field.
Beginning in January 2012, a course of up to 50 Vicon Mocap cameras were set up to capture Lolo and relay real time data to a team of on-site technologists and sports scientists as Lolo trained at LSU in Baton Rouge, LA. This team, including chief scientist Richard Kirby and functional sport expert Vern Gambetta, then worked closely with Lolo’s longtime coach Dennis Shaver to interpret the data and devise ways to shave time off Lolo’s runs. Alongside the motion capture technology more often known for major Hollywood movies and high-tech video games, additional technologies were used including an Optojump, an optical LED based system set on the ground to capture contact times and a Phantom camera, which captured imagery at up to 1,250 frames per second and provided visual interpretation to minuscule detail.
While athletes have used motion capture in the past, it was never tested over the length of a track run, nor has it ever been used on a hurdler outdoors. In January and February, Lolo did testing indoors to coincide with the indoor track season, but as her training moved to outdoors, so did the cameras. The extended length of the outdoor motion capture course allowed for the most realistic replication of Lolo’s racing scenarios and allowed the team to focus on details from her start to her takeoff on the first hurdle and her rhythm and contact times through several sets of hurdles. The project utilized up to 50 cameras, 39 body markers with cameras capturing a frame rate of 250 frames per second, resulting in over 30,000 points of 2D and 3D data per second of her run. This level of data provided the team a rich set of information to tweak Lolo’s training and find ways to perfect and enhance her times. Some of the key findings include identifying center of mass position versus toe touchdown point, which determines sprint mechanics efficiency, a piece of information which is that was impossible to detect from previous technology. The quick rendering of data and relay to on track computers allowed for in-session feedback, speeding up what would be weeks of analysis into under an hour.
Lolo’s longtime coach Dennis Shaver explains how the project has added depth to his coaching tactics, “Previously you were going on coach’s intuition, fairly inaccurate video analysis. Red Bull Project X has allowed us to eliminate all guess work and get right down to the finite, exact thousandth of a second of what all is going on and try to make changes that will benefit her.” In a sport where the difference between first and fifth can be mere hundredths of a second, each minor improvement can have a hefty impact. As Coach Shaver elaborates, “Ultimately the whole project is about, and what an elite athlete is trying to do, is shave milliseconds off ground contact times, milliseconds off each one of those hurdle clearances. If you can do that you are probably going to be on the podium at the end of the day. “
For Lolo, the training regimen has helped give her a boost of confidence that is crucial leading into major races, “You have just 12 seconds to do all of this. Having this technology and just making sure every little thing is clear and precise and we can find the mistakes before we go to a big competition, it’s vital. It’s not something that Coach Shaver or I could have done on our own. It takes a team,” said Jones.
After countless hours on the track and in the gym, preparing herself for one of the biggest meets of her life, she will be ready thanks to hard work and the tools that have pushed the boundaries of track analysis. “Having the data – and using the data to improve. Knowing that I can fix my errors and practice and get smarter and better and faster in the practices, that’s what’s going to help me in the races. I feel like Red Bull Project X is my edge. And sometimes that’s all you need.”