For Patrick Deneen, his dream of winning gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics is all about the "three Ts" – talent, tenacity … and technology.
Deneen, a moguls freestyle skier from Colorado who is among the favorites in Sochi, is one of a number of athletes to fully embrace a range of drastic advances in "science fiction" wizardry and gadgetry aimed at improving athletic performance.
Geek chic, the fresh phenomenon that has seen nerd culture enjoy a popularity boom, has now made its way into sports, and Deneen is not alone in adopting a high-tech, cerebral approach to his profession. The 26-year-old's favorite gadget is an iPad application called Coach's Eye, which allows his trainers to break down footage of his practice jumps in extreme detail and helps him make instant technical adjustments.
"We shoot multiple angles of every jump he does and it has changed the way we coach," said Pat Deneen, Patrick's father and coach. "We hit 'analyze' and it breaks it down, frame by frame, in high resolution. We make our notes, and send it on up the hill."
The app's processing speed means the elder Deneen and other members of the coaching team are able to go through each jump in fine detail and relay the necessary information to his son by the time he returns to the top of the hill for another run. They have even used it for "remote" coaching, sending each jump to aerial coach Chris Seaman in Colorado when he was unable to make it to a training camp in Mount Batchelor, Oregon. Seaman would then send back instant advice and modifications for the following jump.
Coach's Eye is widely available for $5 on the iPhone or iPad and might be the most telling example of how even affordable technology has become a major part of modern sports.
The app features a timing mechanism so that Pat Deneen can figure out if there are any discrepancies in Patrick's take-off time from one jump to the next. "It is a bit like science fiction, and it is really cool," Patrick Deneen said. "Having the ability to get access to that information so quickly is a game-changer. You work just as hard as ever, but the work you are doing is more effective and efficient."
American Billy Demong, who won gold in the Nordic combined event that mixes ski jumping and cross country skiing at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, is another Coach's Eye user and can scarcely believe the technological strides that have been made in winter sports over the course of his 20-year career.
"It is amazing. Who knows what things will be like in another 20 years time?" Demong said.
Winter Olympic technology has certainly come a long way since the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley, Calif., when metal skis made of riveted aluminum were used successfully for the first time by Frenchman Jean Vuarnet.
In Sochi, the U.S. speedskating team will wear specially designed racing suits that were constructed by clothing manufacturer Under Armour and prominent defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The suits are said to reduce friction and cut wind resistance by using raised dots and pinstriping and are believed to be the fastest suits ever made. Car maker BMW has also joined forced with the U.S. bobsled team, using race-car technology to improve the team sled's aerodynamics and make it lighter, tougher and more maneuverable – and therefore faster.
The future surely holds even greater innovative strides, but already technology is a potential edge that more and more athletes are finding impossible to ignore.