Soccer team in a huddle

Making Sailing Simpler at the 2016 Olympics

August 20, 2015 by John Ward

Some Olympic events are simple to understand. Some are not. Olympic sailing, for example, is a very complex sport.

The athletes not only match wits against their human competition, but are constantly dealing with a mercurial combination of wind, current, and tide. And while sailing requires considerable strategy, the tactics used during a race are typically lost on those watching from shore.

Yet even as sailors around the globe prepare for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, it appears that things are changing in the world of competitive sailing.

According to members of Sailing Team Germany (STG), modern analytics are helping simplify the sport for both sailors and spectators alike.

Pursuing the Dream of Olympic Gold

STG is the company behind Germany’s national sailing team – the Audi Sailing Team Germany – and these days STG is hard at work helping hopeful athletes get ready for the upcoming Summer Games.

“Sailing is all about challenging complexity,” says Marcus Baur, STG’s Head of Technology. “And we’re trying to make things simpler with better technology.” A good example of this technology is the SAP Sailing Analytics software STG is using to boost the effectiveness of its training programs.

With this analytics tool, STG can gather data from various sources during a race and store it on the SAP HANA Cloud platform for in-depth analysis. This information includes GPS data from the different boats and course markers, as well as wind data that is provided four times a second by ultrasonic sensors. Combining this data with graphical overlays provides STG with a bird’s-eye view of an entire race in 2D and 3D.

Athletes and trainers attend evening debriefings in the STG technology team’s office where they reconstruct and analyze the day’s events. Rather than relying on gut feel, members of the sailing team can scientifically determine the theoretical “perfect run” and evaluate the results of their own course selections.

By better understanding the dynamics of past races, the sailors hope to improve their future performance at the Olympics.

Improving the View from Shore

“Sailing is a fantastic sport,” says STG’s CEO Oliver Schwall. “It is like a chess game played on the water.”

But sailing events have always proved challenging to televise and difficult for non-sailors to understand. During the 2012 Summer Games in London, an Irish comedian spoofed this fact by describing a race as a TV commentator completely befuddled by what he was watching. His video – which many people assumed was serious – went viral.

So how do you make a nautical battle of wits more accessible and transparent to spectators? Again, STG believes modern analytics could provide an answer.

“You can’t bring thousands of people out on the water to follow a race,” Schwall explains, “but you can combine real images with relevant race information to make sailing very interesting and more understandable.”

Schwall points to recent online broadcasts where data captured during the race is helping to educate a growing community of sailing fans. STG hopes such analytics are put to even greater use in the future to give spectators real-time insight into the strategies and outcomes of the Olympic races.

Showcasing Simplicity on the Olympic Stage

“For me the big challenge is to make sailing simple enough for young sailors and spectators to understand and enjoy,” says Baur. “It’s beautiful to take such a complex challenge and look for the simple solutions.”

So keep your eye on the German crews at the upcoming 2016 Olympics. Next summer’s Games could be the proving grounds for STG’s simplified approach to a complex sport.

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Please join me on Twitter at @JohnGWard3.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

 

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