BU’s community is making a difference to the Olympics and Paralympics

With the Olympics just a few days’ away and the Paralympics beginning in September, all eyes will be turning to the outstanding sporting achievements of some of the world’s top athletes.

From supporting athletes and teams to shaping the selection of our Olympic teams to influencing the news coverage of the Paralympics, BU’s community is proud to be involved in one of the sporting highlights of the year.

Our research has helped inform sporting decisions in the run up to the Olympics and Paralympics, while some of our staff and alumni will in Rio in August and September to work alongside Britain’s athletes.

Using research to improve sporting performance

Research from Professor Tim Rees, carried out on behalf of UK Sport, explores how elite athletes develop and what factors lead to their success.  Although his research began in 2010, its results have only recently been made public, giving UK Sport the chance to implement its findings before other countries’ sporting bodies made use of them.

“Our research turned some conventional coaching practices on their heads,” says Professor Rees, “For example, we found that practicing your chosen sport doesn’t necessarily correlate with an improvement in performance.  It’s important for athletes to vary their training and for juniors not to specialise too early.  ‘Play’ and incidental learning can be just as important in an athletes’ development and can help to avoid burnout and over-use injuries.”

“The findings of our review have very practical implications for our next generation of elite athletes,” continues Professor Rees, “It’s already being used by UK Sport and has influenced coaching and selection practices of the athletes representing us in Rio.”

BU research has also been making a difference to athletes on an individual level.  Dr Bryce Dyer, Head of BU’s Design & Engineering Research Centre, is an expert in the design and analysis of elite sporting equipment.  His research into prosthesis has led him to design prosthetic limbs for Irish Paralympic cyclist, Colin Lynch.

“The research project stemmed from my curiosity about how important a prosthetic limb might or might not be when cycling competitively,” explains Dr Dyer, “I really enjoy doing research that has tangible real world applications – particularly in elite sport, which is a major passion of mine both inside and outside of the university.”

“I worked with Pace Rehabilitation to really see if we could optimise the aerodynamics, weight, construction and general biomechanics of the Colin’s prosthesis.  This led to a prosthetic leg being designed specifically for him that met his needs and was tailored to the kind of events he participates in.”

In addition to his practice-based research, Dr Dyer has also explored the controversies surrounding the use of technology in sport and whether these bring athletes an unfair advantage.  Whether it is the use of prosthetic limbs, a highly developed bicycle or the latest in cutting edge materials, he has shown that any debate can produce solutions that can be positive, damaging or incredibly exciting to competitive sport as we push the boundaries of human performance.

Changing perceptions of disability through media coverage of the Paralympics

Not only has BU research influenced athletes competing in the Olympics and Paralympics, it has also changed news coverage of the Paralympics.  Dr Carrie Hodges and her team influenced Channel 4’s ‘Meet the Superhumans’ campaign and its coverage of the 2012 and now 2016 Paralympics.  The award-winning campaign helped to re-shape people’s perceptions of disability.

“We spent 18 months researching attitudes towards disabled people,” explains Dr Hodges, “We looked at people’s everyday experiences in the context of the 2012 Paralympics.  We found that one of the greatest causes of stigma surrounding disability is fear.  That fear tends to stem from a lack of experience of disability and a lack of authentic stories about disabled people.”

“The Paralympics are a great opportunity to change perceptions of disability and we’re delighted that our research helped to make a difference.”

Working at the Olympics and Paralympics

Dr Osman Ahmed, a Lecturer in Physiotherapy, will be travelling to Rio in September to support Great Britain’s Cerebral Palsy Football Team.

“I’ve been working as a physiotherapist for the Football Association for over ten years.  I’ve worked with a number of teams, including the England Amputee Football team, the England Blind Football Team, and now GB’s Cerebral Palsy Football Team,” says Dr Ahmed.

“It’s great to be a part of such an important sporting event and to get to work alongside some of the country’s top athletes.  I work with the team to help prevent injuries and provide rehabilitation and support when they do occur in training or on the pitch.”

“We’ve got a tough draw this year – our first match is against the hosts Brazil and our second is against Ukraine, who have one of the best teams in the world, but I think we’ve got a really good chance of doing well and maybe even finishing on the podium.”

BU’s alumni are also making a contribution to the Olympics and Paralympics.  Multimedia Journalism graduate, Liz Birchall is Head of Communications at UK Athletics, giving her a key role in sharing the success stories of Team GB’s athletes.

“I oversee all parts of communication of UK Athletics – the governing body of the sport in the UK.  This includes events such as Olympic trials, the Anniversary Games at the Olympic Park in London and, of course, European Championships and the Olympics itself,” explains Liz.

“I’ll be travelling to Rio this summer with Team GB.  It’ll be my third Olympics after London and Beijing and I’ll be working closely with our athletes to highlight their achievements throughout the Games.  It’s fantastic to be so involved with such an important sporting event.”