The sports science of Olympic sailing

Toby Heppell speaks to the RYA's Pete Cunningham about the science behind the scenes
All sailors are aware that a little effort in the gym can reap rewards on the race course - be it being able to hike harder, pull harder, last longer or be the optimum weight. It is the domain of the Olympic sailor where this area of the sport is being taken to new heights of professionalism. The RYA have long been involved in the sports science of sailing and we spoke to Pete Cunningham, their Senior Sports Science Officer, about current programmes being implemented for Olympic and near-Olympic level sailors. Cunningham is no stranger to the world of graphs, blood tests, diet and Gold medals, having been involved in this area of the sport for 12 years. In fact his PhD was on the physiological demands of single handed dinghy sailing. While the technology is fairly generic across different countries Cunningham believes that the UK has a broader understanding of the data produced. “I would say we have a pretty good grip on how fit you need to be; whether it is aerobic fitness, whether it is strength, or whether it is power development” he says. Cunningham is part of a three physiologist team, while he concentrates on the Olympic Performance Squad his colleagues look after the broader Olympic Development Squad. In addition to this they draw on the expertise of strength and conditioning coaches and nutritionists to what he believes is, in sports science terms, as professional as any other sport. Central to what the sports science team have been doing is the collection and interpretation of heart traces and corresponding blood samples. This has enabled them to identify what is happening to the sailor on the water and the best way to improve the performance of the sailor based on the data. One of the most important aspects of this