On Sunday the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) released 38 reports as part of the largest ever biomechanics study in athletics. For those who haven’t heard of this term before, biomechanics is essentially ‘the physics of sports’. It is the science of analysing human movement and examples include analysing how a swimmer’s hand positioning affects their propulsion or how a tennis player’s positioning affects the strength of their shot. At sport’s highest levels where milliseconds and millimetres can determine who is a medallist, this area of research should enable athletes to perfect finer details and improve overall performance. Biomechanics reflects the rise in the use of technology and athlete data we are seeing throughout various sports.
Alongside the thousands of spectators present at last year’s IAAF World Championships in London were 49 high speed and HD cameras. Their recordings were analysed by the IAAF in partnership with Leeds Beckett University. In their results, the reports evaluate the movements of the world’s top athletes such as Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Allyson Felix. Taking the Men’s 100m report by way of example, it goes into meticulous detail down to measuring the angles at which various parts of the eight finalists’ bodies were positioned at touchdown and toe off (i.e. when their foot was in contact with the ground and when that same foot was in the air). The detail can seen in the figures below.
More somewhat digestible data was produced, for example, athletes’ mean speed over each 10-metre split and their mean step length over 100 metres. From this, athletes and coaches can gain a useful insight into the movements of the world’s best athletes, and competitors can try to replicate the same biomechanical movements in their events to improve their performance.