Making The Team: The Long Road To The Olympics

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Athletes must completely dedicate their lives to becoming Olympians. But what exactly does it take to reach that level?

Laura Wilkinson and Adam Nelson, who will be at this year's Olympic Games, join David Durante, who just missed the cut, to talk about putting their sport first for the chance of bringing home the gold.

Wilkinson is a member of the 2008 Olympic diving team and a 2000 Olympic gold medalist in women's platform diving. Nelson is a shotputter, who won silver medals in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. Durante was an alternate for 2008 gymnastics team.

Technology Used To Boost Olympic Performance

Computer analysis may help improve the performance of U.S. athletes competing in the Olympics. Peter Vint, sport technologist for the U.S. Olympic Committee, says his research shows that weight vests can have a spectacular change in a runner's performance.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The swimmers competing for places on the U.S. Olympic team this week have been breaking world records at a remarkable rate. And sometimes breaking the new record just minutes after it was set. One factor in their blazing performances is technology. They're all wearing the same suit. A black and silver NASA-engineered set of unisex long johns that apparently improves their ability to slip through the water may be making the difference in this kind of competition.

The U.S. is taking a scientific approach to the Summer Games in lots of areas, not only what competitors wear but how they move. Peter Vint is a sport technologist for the U.S. Olympic team. He measures and analyzes motions like swim strokes or volleyball spikes in fine detail, looking for that one adjustment that can mean the difference between silver and gold. Peter Vint joins us from Colorado Springs where the U.S. athletes are in the final stages of training. Mr. Vint, welcome.

Dr. PETER VINT (Sport Technologist, U.S. Olympic Committee): Good morning. Thank you for having me.

WERTHEIMER: You're using fancy equipment and computers and whatnot to try to find out why one thing works better than another thing.

Dr. VINT: That's exactly right. One of the things we're really charged with is finding things that are actually changeable for athletes at this very high level of performance.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that you prescribed weight vests for track and field people?

Dr. VINT: What we have tried to identify in track and field and some of our more explosive sports are ways in which we can help our athletes be more powerful and more explosive, particularly in the first several meters of the performance. So these athletes wear a weighted vest for all of their waking hours. So when they first wake up in the morning they put it on. They can take it off when they take a shower but they wear it for the rest of the day until they go to sleep. And they do this for about three weeks, essentially convincing your body that you live on a planet that has more gravity than Earth.

WERTHEIMER: Do they wear it while they are practicing, while they're running?

Dr. VINT: They do for those three weeks, and when the athlete takes it off, the change in performance is pretty spectacular.

WERTHEIMER: I can sort of see, in a commonsensical way, why that would work. But you're doing some other things, too. I mean, you're using - I suppose you use a combination of cameras and computers. How do you - how do you make that work?

Dr. VINT: Well, it really depends on the application for us. So, for example, the BMX cycling camp, we'll go in and use a combination of sensors, one, and accelerometer, which measure acceleration, to look at the explosiveness that the athlete can generate through the bike at the start.

WERTHEIMER: BMX is a form of bicycle racing, right?

Dr. VINT: That's correct. We combine that with a couple of other sensor technologies to get a pretty comprehensive picture of what these guys are doing, what they're capable of. And by modifying any pedal position at the very beginning or which leg they tend to push with, if one is more explosive than the other and they're willing to try that out, then perhaps we can gain that 10th of a second or a few hundredths of a second on the start.

WERTHEIMER: Can you help us with a swimming example?

Dr. VINT: No, I can't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. VINT: That is...

WERTHEIMER: Rats.

Dr. VINT: That is - actually, we've done quite a bit of work with swimming over this past year and we've found some pretty terrific things. That's not a project that I'm able to speak about with you at this moment.

WERTHEIMER: Well, whatever it is that you've been doing when watching the trials, it looked like it's working.

Dr. VINT: Well, I wish I could take credit for that but I don't believe that I can. There are some things that will be put in place that are not a part of the trials or will be a part of subsequent world championships that I think will be quite exciting.

WERTHEIMER: Peter Vint is a sport technologist at the U.S. Olympic Committee Training Center in Colorado Springs. Thanks very much, Mr. Vint.

Dr. VINT: Thank you.

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