The Japanese Olympic Team has earned an impressive nineteen medals in six days of competition at the 2012 Olympics. This has also been an impressive victory for Japan’s sports science strategies. The medal-winning achievements have been in five sports where resilience from intense pain or endurance can be key success factors. This success is building confidence for this weekend’s triathlon competitions.
“If an athlete feels pain, we use acupuncture as first aid,” explains Minoru Yajima, medical advisor and physiotherapist for Japan’s Triathlon team. Most of Team Japan’s medal winning medical strategy is preventative and based on a time-tested Japanese tradition – shiatsu massage. The Japanese Olympic Committee has also followed the lead of the USOC sports medicine team and invested in chiropractic care, as its sports science team explained during a practice event on August 1.
Japan’s strategy for success in triathlon events will put sports science to the test. The team’s athletes are supported by five sports science experts who have each spent two months preparing the team to excel. Two engineers take detailed measurements of course dimensions to calculate the paths of least resistance and prepare athletes to adapt to changing temperatures. This is very important. Triathlon events have the highest fatality rate of any sport except auto racing, largely because of the physical demands of rapid changes in temperature. The Japanese triathlon athletes also work with a nutrition and fitness counselor and a strength and conditioning trainer as well as their physiotherapist.
The Japanese sports science strategy has won support from international sponsors who benefit from the scientific research. BMW engineers work with the team the same way they work with the winning America’s Cup syndicate, BMW Oracle Racing. The sports competition advance scientific knowledge about important factors such as reaction times, wind resistance and visibility. Oakley of Lake Forest, California has highlighted the importance of good visibility to sports success. Its “Radar” line of eyewear can reduce glare by ninety percent and minimize discomfort from moisture – an important factor for athletes pushing themselves to the limit on the ground after swimming in brisk open water.
The Olympics does not award medals in sports science, but the 2012 Olympics are giving the sports science community important visibility to gain more sponsor support and advance research that can advance health and fitness for millions of amateur athletes, as well as Olympic stars.
UPDATE: Takaharu Furukawa of Japan won a silver medal in archery on August 3 in variable wind conditions that put sports science to the test and proved that sports science can contribute impressive results.