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F1 technology inspires cutting-edge canoeing

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Gordon Farquhar | 13:22 UK time, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The level of technical sophistication being sought by Britain's elite sports continues to know no bounds.

I've had an inside view of the kind of synergies being forged between such apparently unlikely bedfellows as the British Canoe Union and Formula 1 legends McLaren.

You might wonder what Lewis Hamilton's 2010 F1 car and a canoe paddle have got in common? Hamilton's ride is a technological tour de force, a paddle is, er, for paddling with.

No longer.

Tim BrabantsTim Brabants wins gold for Great Britain in Beijing

McLaren have a lot more tricks up their sleeve than just developing very fast cars, although that's where it all starts.

They're experts at data handling and measurement. In fact, they could probably re-name themselves "Sensors-R-Us". Only that would mortally offend their self-knowing Feng Shui'd sense of cooooool.

McLaren Applied Technologies have come up with a bespoke paddle design with a built in sensor and transmitter that Olympic hopefuls can use in training.

It sends real-time data to a coach's laptop, so he or she can monitor all manner of things, like force and efficiency of pull, timing, length of stroke and so on.

The athletes can be wired up, too, so all kinds of other biomechanical data can be taken and put into the mix. It'll show the coach what's going well, what isn't, where improvements can be made and where weaknesses lie.

In other words, there's no hiding place any more for the paddler who's not giving it full beans in training.

Cycling has been in bed with technology for years.

Ever since Chris Boardman's stunning gold medal performance on the infamous black Lotus-developed bike in Barcelona, it's been as much about the machine as who sits on it. But it's making both work together in harmony that's the challenge.

Boardman, co-founder of the "Secret Squirrel" club (GB cycling's high-tech think-tank), has been a regular visitor to the McLaren technology centre.

Chris BoardmanChris Boardman on his Lotus-developed bike at the 1992 Olympics

There they've developed monitoring systems that allow training data to be mapped and compared via specialised software systems to show where on the track those vital tenths of seconds could be trimmed.

Triple Beijing gold medallist Chris Hoy has been used as a statistical benchmark to compare others by.

The big gain for any slightly sceptical athletes is that they can review this data in graphic form on one half of a computer screen whilst looking a video replay of their lap on the other, to see exactly where things went right or wrong.

GB cycling believe this is the stuff that will keep them out in front - and it probably will.

McLaren are happy to help in this not-for-profit arrangement because, in return, they get access to the human data which will help their expansion into medical applications in the future. Synergies, you see.

Now, a final proposition. The Kenyan track cycling team are unlikely to be winning any medals anytime soon. Neither are the Burkina Faso women's kayak team.

So in the spirit of Olympism, how about, after 2012, we share the secrets of our success where technology has played a significant part, to make it more of a contest between muscles, lung power and lactic acid again next time? Thought not.


  • Comment number 1.

    Gordon I believe that Graham Obree was the first one to push the limits to design and technology of bikes. He did it in his workshop with parts from various bits of machinery. I think he is more of the father for technology when it came to cycling fighting governing bodies and getting no backing from British Cycling. If you want a good read then pick up his autobiography as it also very emotional.

    I'm sure Mclaren will also be behind building better rowing boats and canoes and paddles for the races as well.

  • Comment number 2.

    Obree would be the first to admit he was doing his stuff in isolation - and it was not necessarily cutting edge on a technological basis, his motivation was largely physiological (positions of the handlebars, the bottom bracket and the resulting ability to get his feet closer together).

  • Comment number 3.

    The BCU and McLaren may appear unlikely bedfellows but we shouldn't believe that technology alone will win gold medals in 2012. However, their is a growing belief that the talented crop of British paddlers (especially in the women's canoes) will land us the best madal haul in the sport for many years.

    Perhaps McLaren's eye for an opportunity is not just about faith in their own abilities.

  • Comment number 4.

    fascinating to see how technology cross over different sports. well, I don't know how good it'll help for the olympics but, it'll definetely help.


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