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Bob Sleigh

Case study: UK Sport

McLaren Applied Technologies has a proud reputation for delivering cutting-edge solutions across an expansive range of industries. Nowhere, however, is that pride more evident than in our work with UK Sport, the high-performance agency tasked with preparing elite British athletes for competition. McLaren’s involvement with UK Sport spans many disciplines and, of the 65 medals won by the British team during the 2012 Summer Games, half were claimed in sports where McLaren Applied Technologies was active.

The work is especially rewarding because it draws upon our core capabilities, demanding the best we have to offer in the fields of electronics, telemetry, materials technology, and human performance monitoring.

A good example is our collaboration with Team GB cyclists. Drawing on our design expertise, we created sensor hardware to be fitted within bike frames. A non-GPS positioning system was created (GPS being unreliable inside velodromes) and bespoke data analysis software developed to monitor speed, power, cadence and other valuable metrics.

While technology for cycling has proved to be fertile ground for McLaren in other areas, similar applications for UK Sport definitely extended our capacity. We’ve designed other telemetry systems around strain gauges embedded within the oars used by water sports squads, and built sensors suites for the various sailing categories in which the British team prospered.

“It’s nice that we were selected to help deliver performance, not because we have a long history with canoeing or cycling, but because we can apply our core skill of advanced telemetry and data management,” says Geoff McGrath, vice president of McLaren Applied Technologies. “Measurement creates the data with which we can create insight and help performance directors get the most out of their athletes. I like Michael Johnson’s quote: ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t train for it.’ I think that captures the essence of what we’re doing.”

Applications such as these, where data acquisition has previously been cumbersome and invasive, allow us to use our motor racing heritage, where rugged telemetry systems delivering many data channels are highly developed and expected to perform without compromising performance. This is not, however, simply a case of transferring technologies: it is the experience and know-how that transfers, not the hardware or software.

Most recently we’ve leveraged skills and capabilities form across the McLaren Group to aid UK Sport’s involvement in the recent Winter Games. A standout success was the skeleton sled designed and developed at the McLaren Technology Centre, on which Lizzie Yarnold slid to victory at the Sanki Sliding Centre. The project made heavy use of McLaren's facilities, from our carbon fibre workshops to computational fluid dynamics simulation.

The finished sled design gave Yarnold the tools she needed to go fastest in each of her four runs and take victory in Sochi by a cumulative 0.97 seconds – that’s an even bigger margin in Skeleton that it would be in Formula One.

Competing at the highest level is embedded deep within the DNA of McLaren and our success with the world’s best athletes is particularly satisfying because we understand there are no clients more demanding. Our work with the best of the best, however, has implications beyond elite sports. Already these technologies have crossed over into fields as diverse as clinical trials and executive performance – and we expect more applications to follow. As we have demonstrated many times in the past, there are no limits to where excellence in sport can take us.