How AI is helping elite athletes perform their best at Tokyo’s Olympics

14 Jul 2021

US athlete Alix Klineman. Image: Orreco

Irish company Orreco wants to help athletes win big using AI and biomarker tools, including a menstrual cycle tracker.

Irish specialist sports performance company Orreco has used AI and biomarker tools to help more than 100 elite athletes prepare for this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

Since its establishment in 2010, Orreco has focused on developing products for athletes to maximise training, reduce the threat of injury and improve their overall performance in their chosen sport.

The company, which has offices in Galway, London and Los Angeles, has worked with teams and franchises in the NBA and NFL, as well as individual athletes, F1 drivers and professional golfers including a Ryder Cup Captain.

Now, Orreco is working with Olympic athletes from Ireland, the US, Australia and Great Britain across more than 10 sports.

Orreco’s team of researchers and scientists will work together with the Olympians and their teams using a combination of sports science, data science and systems development to deliver personalised strategies for each athlete.

Athletes Orreco is working with for the Tokyo Olympics include Ireland’s own Sarah Healy, a runner in the 1,500m event. From the US team, Orreco is supporting women’s basketball player Sue Bird, swimmer Allison Schmitt, skateboarder Mariah Duran, beach volleyball player Alix Klineman, cross-country mountain biker Haley Batten and track athlete Nijel Amos. From Team GB, marathon runner Chris Thompson, slalom canoeists Kim Woods and Mallory Franklin, and distance runner Jess Piasecki are all working with Orreco.

Dr Brian Moore, CEO of Orreco, said that the Olympic Games have always had a special place in his company’s story.

He said: “Members of our team have been fortunate to support athletes since 2000 in Sydney. As our athletes work to be faster, stronger and aim higher, so do our scientists to make scientific breakthroughs and new discoveries. We are excited to cheer them and their support teams on in Tokyo.”

In addition to its work with some of the world’s top sports women and men, Orreco has invested a seven-figure sum in female athlete research, supporting several PhD sports science and data science students through to completion.

The company has developed a series of special PhD scholarships as part of a $1m investment programme, which it has created in collaboration with university partners in a number of locations including New Zealand, Letterkenny and London.

Researchers at Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Ireland will receive funding for a project aiming to explain the impact of the menstrual cycle on the ability to successfully perform physical and mental tasks.

PhD students at the University of Waikato in New Zealand will be given funding to study cultural and sociological themes surrounding the implementation of technological solutions related to the menstrual cycle in elite sport.

Orreco will also fund postdoctoral research at University College London, which will focus on advancing the tools and processes involved in monitoring female athlete health and physiology. These research students will work with established Orreco researchers Prof Charles Pedlar and Dr Georgie Bruinvels, who is director of sports science and female athlete lead at Orreco.

Commenting on the new PhD programmes, Bruinvels said: “We are really excited to have the opportunity to be a part of the global charge to advance research in the female athlete space through these PhD programmes. Through our applied work, we have many questions that need to be answered through research, and it is great to be working with some inspiring partners in our mission to address these.”

Bruinvels has worked on Orreco’s female athlete programme, which facilitated the creation of AI tools such as the FitrWoman app and FitrCoach platform. These tools allow women to manage their training programmes in sync with their menstrual cycles.

US volleyball player Klineman, who has benefitted from the app and Orreco’s intelligence-led technology, said: “Hormones definitely play a big role both in everyday life, and also in relation to my training and volleyball career. Working with Orreco’s female athlete programme has helped to optimise my hormonal health, and navigate the changes that happen during a menstrual cycle so that I can optimise my athletic performance.”

Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.