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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

It's all in the wrist: Sports tech blossoms at Tokyo Olympics

From military-grade radar to Swiss-precision cameras, Games will be cutting edge

Down to the millimeter: Sports technology has revolutionized how athletes train and perform.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- If you have ever wondered how fast 400-meter runners are moving, the about-to-open Tokyo Olympics will offer a clue. Real time speed will be displayed during the TV broadcasts.

The Games, which begin with soccer and baseball events on Wednesday before Friday's opening ceremony, are set to showcase some of the latest in sports technology. Sensors and artificial intelligence instantly digitize body movements and the whereabouts of balls, assisting athletes to improve performance and judges to make the right call.

Swiss watchmaker Omega has been tasked with collecting athletes' data during the Games. Small sensors are attached to all athletes' shirts. It collects and analyzes roughly 2,000 sets of data per second, such as speed or points of acceleration.

In beach volleyball, an AI camera measures where the ball has been tossed and how high the player jumped. Similar analyzing technology will be introduced in bicycle road races, swimming and gymnastics.

"Our technology can measure the whole performance of a player," Alain Zobrist, CEO of Omega Timing, said. The data will be shared with athletes and coaches and will be used to develop future training programs.

Danish sports technology company TrackMan is helping the Japanese baseball team in its quest to win the gold medal. Building on radar technology used in militaries to track missiles and aircraft, its TrackMan device analyzes every pitch or hit.

Video is automatically triggered at pitch release or when batters make contact with the ball and displayed side by side with TrackMan's data analysis.

For pitches, it can measure release speed, spin rate, spin axis, release height and release angles, which can help coaches evaluate if a pitcher is in top form or still has fatigue from the previous game.

For batting, TrackMan captures exit velocity, spin rate, 3D contact point, launch angle, launch direction and distance.

Eleven pro teams in Japan use TrackMan and many players on the national team rely on it for training. Many teams now have dedicated staff to analyze the data, said Daisuke Hoshikawa, TrackMan's representative in Japan.

The device is widely used in Major League Baseball, as well as baseball leagues in South Korea and Taiwan.

Technology is also changing the way games are played. Hawk-Eye Innovations, part of the Sony Group, has been providing its Electronic Line Calling service to over 80 tennis tournaments around the world, taking the doubt out of close line calls by using millimeter-accurate ball tracking cameras to identify whether a ball was in or out.

It created the "challenge" function in tennis games.

Digital tools are also prevalent in managing athletic conditioning. The health management app One Tap Sports, by Tokyo-based company Euphoria, is used by more than 45% of Japanese athletes taking part in the Tokyo Olympics.

Athletes type in their state of health, injuries, meals and training on a daily basis. The data can be viewed by coaches and nutritionists, through graphs and charts. In Japan it has been embraced by 1,700 teams in 71 different sports, including seven pro baseball teams and 47 soccer teams.

The spread of data use in sports could impact the future generation of Olympians. In Japan, TrackMan is also used in golf practice facilities, measuring ball rotation of nonprofessional golfers.

Japanese telecom KDDI has developed a baseball embedded with a sensor that measures spin rates and ball movement. Priced under $300, the company hopes it to be widely used by children's baseball teams.

Future Olympics, therefore, could become a clash of tech natives, trained from a young age by the latest technology.

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