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Testing athletes at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games

In February, during the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, Olympiatoppen (The Norwegian NOC) offered young athletes aged 16-18 years the chance to be tested and measured using the same validated methods as used with the Norwegian Olympic team. The testing station was set up as part of the Learn & Share activities taking place during the YOG, with an aim of combining sport, culture and education to engage and influence young athletes about sports, leading a healthy lifestyle and the role they play in their communities.
 
– We were present at the Youth Olympic Games to share with the youth athletes how we at the Olympic center go about working with athletes at an elite level. We performed several tests on individual athletes to measure their body movement patterns and to map their current status. All data was put into our system, and their digital body charts then compared to elite athletes. This allowed us to give the youth athletes and their coaches suggestions on how to train more efficiently going forward, says Ola Eriksrud, part of Olympiatoppen and assistant professor at the Norwegian School of Sport Science.
 
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Why is it important to measure the movement patterns of athletes?
 
– When you have an understanding of how an athlete moves, and you are able to compare that data to other reference values, you learn to understand why certain movements are more important and relevant to specific sports. The knowledge can be translated to hands-on advice on how the athlete can start training and stretching to perform better in their sport, explains Ola.
 
– If you are a ski jumper or skier for example, it is important to understand how you generate the most force from the ground in order to move faster. The force you are able to create depends on what kind of alignment your body has. Through our tests, we can see where strengths and weaknesses are, and help athletes understand where the best force is transferred, while also helping them stop with unnecessary movements. This can be adapted in their training to optimize their performance, explains Ola.
 
How are the tests performed?
 
– Measurements are performed though giving the athlete a task, and then having them perform it; like reaching as far to the right as you can when in an upright-position, and then having us measure and chart the degree of that angle in our database. Looking at and combining these tests give a story of how an individual athlete likes to move, which can be useful information for the athlete to better understand their own body’s strengths and weaknesses, explains Ola.
 
– We then compare the digital profile charts of the youth athletes directly to the data we have of the national team level athletes in Norway in the same sport. Through this we are able to see how certain movements are more important and relevant to specific sports, and also give advice to the athlete and their coach on what movements the youth athletes could train to higher their chances of performing at an elite level, says Ola.
 
What did you learn from testing young athletes during the games?
 
– It’s a little bit early to say, but an overall impression we got is that there is less difference between athletes in different sports at this young age. It seems that for elite athletes specializing in their sport, and having done more receptions of certain activities during a long time, their body’s mobility is effected to better fit their specific sport. When we are now able to compare athletes from an early age, it gives us a better idea of how the body develops over time. We can then link this data to both performance and/or dysfunction going forward. We can possibly find how a person’s body was moving before pain or discomfort occurred, which may enable us to look at specific movements or movement patterns as a possible precursor to dysfunction. This understanding could help us in being better at helping athletes throughout their careers, explains Ola.
 
The Learn & Share programme was popular among the 1100 athletes from 71 countries participating in the Youth Olympic Games. Olympiatoppen, together with volunteers and students, performed over 300 tests during the games.
 
– We were well received by the visitors and the International Olympic Committee, and a lot of athletes and coaches were interested in our method of testing. We had athletic role models and Olympic game role models who have won medals in past senior games come and try out our system and be impressed by our scientifically validated results, says Ola.
 

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Professor Ola Eriksrud (Left) at the Elite Sport Center with Matt Nielson NZL (Right). Source: IOC Young Reporters