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Science takes to the waves to enhance sport

Updated: 2013-04-14 08:04
By Dusty Lane in Singapore ( China Daily)

 Science takes to the waves to enhance sport

Boats line up during the Extreme Sailing Series in Singapore. Lloyd Images

The computers really are taking over.

Sailing - for thousands of years, a simple pursuit requiring little more than a boat and some wind - has joined the ranks of sports that integrate technology and number-crunching with the basics.

A new system designed by SAP is being gradually introduced into the Extreme Sailing Series to track things like boat positioning and wind conditions and provide real-time information to fans.

It also provides crews with a way to evaluate their performances, and learn from mistakes.

"It's quite good for us after the race, to be able to go over the race and see how you did," said Peter Burling, a New Zealand sailor who won a silver medal at the London Olympics and is currently racing for Team Korea on the Extreme Sailing circuit. "But the racing is pretty quick, so there's not really time to be able to use it on the boat."

Stefan Lacher, head of sponsorship technology for SAP global marketing, said the idea came to life two years ago, when Extreme Sailing last made a stop in Singapore.

He noticed it was difficult to follow the action from shore. Boats take different routes around the course, so it can be nearly impossible for the average fan to judge who's leading. The results of races could take several minutes to determine, as judges attempt to figure out the logistics at the finish line.

"It's hard to judge the angle, right or left," Lacher said. "One boat might be a meter or two ahead in the race, even though they're hundreds of meters apart."

So, GPS systems were installed, and SAP is in the process of installing sensors that detect things like how far a boat leans over, or comes out of the water.

"They're very good about talking to sailors about exactly what detail is useful and how best to use it," said Robert Greenhalgh, a Brit who won the first-ever Extreme Sailing title and is sailing with Team Aberdeen Singapore at this event. "Sailing is a very technical sport, and any factual data you can use is very, very useful."

For fans, races become much easier to follow thanks to a real-time dynamic leaderboard on shore and more accurate analysis on web and television broadcasts.

"For Joe Public looking from the shore, it's quite hard to distinguish what the real race course is," said Andy Tourell, the events and operations manager for OC Sport, which oversees Extreme Sailing's marketing. "So it makes it more understandable, which is a key part of the Extreme Sailing concept.

"In terms of the analysis and the commentary, you can be that much surer and you can push it that much harder."

In the long term, the new technology might allow the circuit to package itself better for television coverage.

Still, the computers haven't won the war. Though the crowd might be keeping up in real time, don't expect to see sailors holding digital devices while they are trying to pilot a race any time soon.

"To tell a good story on TV, you need a mixture of insights and emotion," Lacher said. "It's a very physical sport here with the Extreme boats, so I don't really see (sailors) with an iPad in their hand.s".


(China Daily 04/14/2013 page7)

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