January 11, 2018 / 1:24 PM / 9 months ago

Olympics: United States embraces technology to bridge funding gap

LONDON (Reuters) - The United States may have claimed at least nine gold medals in each of the last four Winter Olympics, yet remarkably, all of this success has been achieved without government funding.

A U.S. freeskier unveils the official competition uniform designed by North Face for the U.S. Freeskiing Team at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 during an event in New York City, U.S., October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Unlike many nations who will compete against them in Pyeongchang next month, the United States Olympic Committee and the programs they support receive no financial assistance from the country’s administration.

This lack of funding has forced coaches involved in the training and preparation of American Olympic athletes to look elsewhere to gain any competitive advantage.

Mike Jankowski, known by many as ‘Coach Janks’, is the head coach for the U.S. snowboard and freeskiing team. Since he took over this role, Jankowski has guided athletes, including Shaun White and Hannah Jeter, to 19 Olympic medals.

Jankowski attributes this success to a variety of reasons, including teamwork, access to facilities and raw talent.

Yet he also argues that embracing innovations in technology to improve the coaching experience for athletes under his wing has proved invaluable in gaining the edge on the slopes.

Speaking at a team training camp in Austria, Jankowski said it was crucial coaches allowed athletes to express themselves in a sport that rewards creativity and flair.

“There is not just one way to do these tricks up there. Putting your own flavour on it, putting your stamp on it is absolutely key to impressing the judges,” Jankowski said at the team hotel in Stubai.

Up at the ski park, Jankowski’s high-tech operation was there for all to witness.

All the coaches possess camera skills to record an athlete’s trick from a variety of angles. This footage is then relayed instantly, using live transmission to a set of receivers at the top of the slope, then onto the athletes’ tablet and phone.

LIVE FEEDBACK

Therefore, when an athlete returns to the top of the slope they can immediately view and analyze their previous run.

“They can also see what their competitors are doing, what their team mates are doing. We are recording all the time and sending that live feedback up there and it has absolutely been a game changer for us,” Jankowski enthused.

Jankowski believes these innovations have significantly improved the prospects of American skiers and snowboarders, and helped bridge the gap in funding.

His program relies on donations and sponsorship for 100 percent of its funding, leading to some within U.S. skiing and snowboarding to look enviously at countries such as Great Britain, who receive millions in government assistance.

In preparation for the 2018 Games, UK Sport — a British government organization — and the National Lottery have contributed more than five million pounds ($6.74 million) to winter sports programs, including skiing and snowboarding.

Instead of being bitter, however, Jankowski sees this disparity as a challenge.

“We are fortunate to have the situation that we have,” he added.

“It is challenging, no question, but at the same time it makes you feel better because you are giving back to those partners, to those donors, who have been giving back to you when you bring back the medals.”

Taking medals back to the United States is something Jankowski and the rest of his team have done on a consistent basis. With the help of technology and incremental improvement, they hope to do the same in 2018.

($1 = 0.7414 pounds)

Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by John O'Brien

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