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Case study: EIS support for GB Short Track Speed Skating 2014-2018

EIS | 10 February 2018

“Working with the EIS has allowed me as a Performance Director to be able to focus on the real things that matter and know that I have a fantastic team of sports scientists and practitioners which support me and the coaches.  It enables us to develop a programme that is athlete and coach centred with a great team of sports scientists wrapped around it.  All of this working together is what enables Short Track to function so well as a World Class Programme.”

Stewart Laing, Performance Director, GB Short Track Speed Skating

The EIS has provided a wide-range of practitioners to GB Short Track Speed Skating (STSS) throughout the PyeongChang Olympic cycle, who are co-ordinated by Head of Performance Support Mike Brownlow and Nick Scott. A range of disciplines covering expertise in Sport Science, Strength and Conditioning, Physiology, Physiotherapy, Performance Analysis, Nutrition, Sport Medicine, Performance Lifestyle, and technology and engineering have supported the world class coaching system within the programme.

In addition, Short Track Speed Skating utilises a Performance Engineer that attends to the specific requirements of the sport with underpinned support from the EIS’s centrally-funded Performance Innovation team, and partners from academia and business, who have provided leading-edge technology and engineering solutions.

The EIS has been responsible for the management of the World Class Performance Programme (WCPP) for STSS, since June 2015. This decision was taken due to challenges in Governance that NISA (National Ice Skating Association) were experiencing at that time and to best serve the medal potential of athletes within the programme.

Following this decision, the EIS oversaw the recruitment of a new Performance Director, Stewart Laing (in December 2015), and have gone on to work closely with him to deliver the WCPP and usher in a period of unprecedented success for SSTS which has seen athletes from the programme win 20 medals across in 2017 from Star Class to the World Championships.  This included Elise Christie becoming a triple world champion and Women’s 500m World Record holder.

The Performance Plan
Overall the STSS World Class Progaramme Performance Strategy carefully blends the strategic plan for short track with the long term view of ‘What It Takes To Win’ (WITTW). Day-to-day services delivery in STSS is fully integrated with practitioners working alongside coaches and athletes on their individual development plans. These individual plans (aligned to the WITTW model) guide each practitioners delivery helping each athlete to achieve improvements in performance. The plans are conceptualised to the specific development needs of each athletes and focused around three key components: ‘Skate Fast’, ‘Race Smart’ and ‘Deliver When it Matters’.

These components involve collaborative approaches by coaches and sport science and medicine to facilitate integrated working in each of these areas.

Following Sochi 2014, Elise Christie has worked closely with the sports science and medical practitioners, becoming a three-time world champion in 2017, taking the 1,000m, 1500m and overall titles at the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Rotterdam.

One of the area of support which Elise credits with helping her to stay in the best possible shape throughout the season is the work of Terri Paulson, the EIS nutritionist that works with STSS.

Elise explained: “It’s been really important for us to have a nutritionist because I can lose weight really easily.  She has given me a lot of tips on ways to get enough protein into my body to make sure my muscle composition is maintained when I am at competition and not doing as much training, so I have used her a lot over the years.”

Engineering improvements in performance
The addition of a Performance Engineer, Dave Schorah, to work with STSS has been a new development in the programme that is designed support the coaches in helping athlete’s ensure they have the optimal blade set-up and maximise their practice time on the ice.

Blades are critically important in speed skating and influence cornering, agility and speed across the ice, yet they are very delicate, measuring 45 cm in length and 1.1mm thick.

Every individual has a bespoke blade setting and the role of the Performance Engineer is to ensure that each athlete has their skate set-up to complement his or her size, technique and skating style in a way that enables them to go as fast as possible.

Previously this was done by feel and instinct, but having a specialist on board that can measure the set-up and test different settings to identify what is optimal for the skater has made the process more precise and consistent.

Dave explained: “My role involves an ongoing dialogue between, the coach, the athlete and myself.  The athlete will give feedback if something is not feeling quite right with the blades and I can check to see whether the numbers are what we expect to see. The feedback from the athlete is coupled with the coaches’ feedback on the athlete’s technique to help understand if the issue is skate set up or whether technique alterations are affecting ‘the feel’.”

Having a full-time Performance Engineer working with the programme has delivered a number of benefits in both training and competition.

Having the skates set-up to the athlete’s optimal setting means they are ‘best prepared’ for every session and has reduced the amount of time lost in training sessions due to mechanical problems. In competitions, the coaches and athletes do not have to concern themselves with the set-up and can focus on tactics and strategies as they know the Performance Engineer will set-up the skates to the athlete’s optimal setting.

Performance Analysis supports coaches
Another area of EIS support that has helped to improve training and preparation is through the work of Performance Analyst, Sarah Henderson.

In her role as a Performance Analyst, Sarah films every training session and makes the footage available to the coaches and athletes so they can review sessions and use it to facilitate skill acquisition, developments in techniques and plan race tactics.

According to Sarah: “One of the main benefits of having a Performance Analyst work with the team is that it frees up the coaches time to focus on coaching and technique.  The footage I provide is edited and easily accessible and means the coach can have a really targeted session with an athlete, where they can go back and compare the skaters’ technique from week’s before to identify improvements, issues or the extent to which the athlete is taking the right line and deploying their race strategies.   The coaches do not have to waste time looking for the footage and focus solely on coaching and making the most of every interaction with the athletes.”

Performance analysis is also used to analyse opponents and referee’s, supporting the development of race plans and tactics. The addition of Sarah Henderson to work with the STSS programme has been welcomed by three-time world champion, Elise Christie.

Elise said: “The work I have done with Sarah the Performance Analyst on our team has been really helpful.  It’s been the first year working with one this cycle, so it’s been a big change.  It has really helped me to analyse the performances of other people and compare myself with them and know when I should pass or when I have got speed on them and things like that, so it has been really vital for going into PyeongChang.”

Gaining through performance innovation
In addition to the day-to-day work of practitioners, STSS has also benefitted through a range of technology and engineering projects developed by the EIS’s Performance Innovation team.  The intensely competitive nature of elite sport means that much of the work delivered by the Performance Innovation team is highly confidential, however in the course of the 2014-2018 Olympic cycle, it has supported the Short Track programme through a range of projects including:
• A project to validate the veracity of manufacturer’s claims over the performance of a range of blades
• Optimisation of long haul travel strategies through the development of an interactive planning tool
• Kit development work and wind-tunnel testing

For more information on STSS visit GB Short Track’s website, here.