Irish researchers already working on future Olympic glory

11 Aug 2016

The Irish Research Council (IRC) has revealed a series ongoing projects aimed at improving Ireland’s hopes at future Olympics, covering injury prevention, muscle growth and more.

Sculpting the perfect athlete takes years of effort, teams of expert coaches and a decent dollop of both talent and luck. The experts devise plans, based on past performances: detailing drills, planning events and ultimately guiding athletes through qualifiers.

The effort from the athlete – as well as that of his or her parents, coaches and teammates – is obvious, with luck the unfortunately necessary final element in every sport.

Future Human


Olympics: sports science

However, behind all of this comes science, with researchers constantly working out better ways to build strength, increase endurance and gain crucial edges.

That could be dietary, tailoring each athlete’s diet to their metabolic needs. It could be studying the effects of training in high or low temperatures, at altitude, or over shorter, sharper distances.

On that theme, the IRC’s latest news makes for interesting reading, with specific research projects funded by the organisation currently underway aimed at improving the platform upon which future Olympians will emerge.

“What many fans may not realise is the key role research plays in driving the ongoing development of sports, ranging from GAA and rugby to showjumping and greyhound racing,” said Dr Eucharia Meehan, director of the IRC.

“The research being conducted in Ireland at present is enhancing sports at all levels, from local community games right up to the Olympics and other international competitions.”

Olympics: varied areas of research

Current projects include Martin O’Reilly’s research into the effectiveness of performance monitoring and biofeedback in resistance training. A member of Ireland’s Olympic handball team, O’Reilly – based at University College Dublin (UCD) – is working with Realtime Technologies on the project, which will eventually feed into future fitness regimes.

Elsewhere, Claire Brady, based at the University of Limerick (UL), is working in partnership with the Irish Sports Council to develop a bespoke strengthening and diagnostic system to support injury prevention, rehabilitation and welfare among Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Fiona Bradley, based at the National Greyhound Laboratory, is collaborating with Limerick Institute of Technology to develop reliable drug-screening methods for detecting doping.

Vinny Hammond, based at the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), is collaborating with UCD to identify methods to better analyse and predict successful athletic performance at senior level.

Aileen Carter, based at UCD, is working in collaboration with the ever-impressive Equilume to explore how optimised photo-stimulation that mimics sunlight can improve the growth and exercise capacity of maturing thoroughbred horses.

Power and pressure

Elsewhere, Lindsay Sullivan, based at NUI Galway, is focusing on increasing awareness of sports-related concussion and reducing the consequences of such injuries.

“The pressures and challenges, defeats and triumphs that an Olympic athlete has to encounter pre, during and after Games can leave them vulnerable to depression and other mental health issues, unless they are psychologically equipped, in advance, with the right coping mechanisms,” said Jessie Barr, a researcher at UL and former Olympian.

Barr, who competed in the 4x400m relay at the 2012 Olympics in London, is focusing on Olympic athletes: both athletes who have been to the Games and those who came very close to qualifying.

“The IRC is proud to fund researchers who are contributing to the ongoing success of Irish sports, as well as the enhanced safety and skill of our sportspeople,” said Meehan.

“We are also delighted to collaborate with a range of key sporting organisations on our Enterprise Schemes, including the IRC, the IRFU and Leinster GAA, who are new partners to the scheme in 2016.”

Sports science image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic