Universiteit Leiden

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From intuition to data

Dutch speedskaters have been winning the most medals in speed skating at the Winter Olympics for years. How? Based on their intuition. Scientist Jeroen van der Eb of the Data Mining & Sports group of the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS) wants speedskaters to adjust their irons based on data. Together with former speedskater Beorn Nijenhuis, he is investigating the perfect skating take off.

Testing skate

With a testing skate they assess the perfect skating take off. This skate registers how much force is exerted on the skates and captures the frequency and the symmetry of the skating strokes. ‘At this moment, the irons are adjusted by intuition,’ says van der Eb. ‘The data from this test skate is supposed to change that.’ Although the final testing skate is not yet finished and Van der Eb has only worked with prototypes, he already found aberrant results. ‘For a year, I thought I was looking at measurement errors, until I saw the errors in multiple skaters, mainly short distance skaters. They take off differently than we would theoretically expect,’ explains Van der Eb. 

Formula 1

Just like tires are changed in Formula 1 depending on the circumstances, Van der Eb expects speedskaters in the future to alternate their irons during a tournament. ‘It is actually idiotic that speedskaters skate an all-round tournament on the same curve, whether it is the 500 or the 10.000 meter. We can already imagine that this is strange, but we haven’t come up with a solution yet.’

Read the full article (in Dutch) in De Volkskrant

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