When English writer R.C. Lehmann likened an oarsman’s bodily tendency while rowing to a ‘“columnar sway” in his poem, ‘The Perfect Oar’, he merely sought to embellish the mechanical.
No billiard ball could pass or match the rebounding pace of an oarsman’s callused hands, he wrote.
His was a time when visual metaphors drove the idea of the ideal oarsman: thickset, with maximum efficiency of an action that repeats itself — pressing, swivelling the oar through water, with an acquired strength of arms and fine body balance, in a swift, smooth arc.
A dab of the scientific, nowadays, helps customise the efficiency. For, in competition, medals much fancied are won and lost in milliseconds. Among methods very many, — each unique in the parameters considered and the process — the BAT Logic way has held its own.
When Edmund Wittich, a consultant for sports medicine, athlete analysis, and product innovation at BAT Logic, an Australia-based analytics firm, says, “Our system helped produce four gold and three silver medals at the London Olympics,” one becomes curious to know more.
This, he explains in not more than half an hour at the SRASSC Water Sports Centre, where the technology was tested for the first time in Asia, during the sub-junior & inter-State Challenger sprint National rowing championships. SRASSC has signed an MoU with the firm to avail its technology.
After Tamil Nadu’s Karn Rao had rowed down with his feet in the contraption — custom-made shoes fixed atop foot plates, attached to the foot stretcher of the boat — and Wittich, trailing him in a separate boat, had received and read the tactile feedback on his laptop, the latter settled down for an explanatory session. “The overall aim of our system is to try and reduce the risk of injury and improve performance; those two factors are very much linked,” says Wittich.
“Rowing has big injury risks for the lower back, ribs, and knee. And if we can get the feet more stable, more connected (with the boat), the injury risk is lessened and the athlete can also apply more power. Our plate focuses on lifting the toes, and spreading them slightly. This creates a more effective lever through the foot,” he says holding the plates up for display.
There is a heel wedge in the plate, which, he says, allows the heel to load earlier.
This makes the rower, rather unwittingly, better use the hamstring and gluteal muscles, which are very effective at applying force.
The force referred to is the feet thrust that helps the rower stabilise, which in turn translates to better power generation through a stroke.
“There is a sensor system that measures the foot force,” says Wittich.
“It tracks the front and rear of the foot, and compares the left and right feet, which gives us a picture of how the rower pushes to create force to start the stroke. We can then analyse the data to see if the athletes need any custom settings to help improve the way they apply force.”
The foot force, in kilogrammes per second, is measured for conditions varied. From all these factors read and analysed, efficiency, force production, force transmission and injury prevention — the key performance indicators — can be worked on, improved.
“The rower also gets ideas on how to move better, how to be stronger, how to be more flexible, or how to change the movement pattern,” says Wittich.
Shoes are custom-made for an athlete based on the data from analysis. “The plates can be attached to any boat and the athletes can then use their shoes in any boat they row. In this way, their feet will get better accustomed to the shoes, hygiene can be maintained, and the athlete will have better connection to the boat.”
Much in the same way as the sports-science connect.