Rutherford swaps jumping for paddling as part of SAS ‘Rowing Fit’ challenge

Greg Rutherford is put through his paces
Greg Rutherford is put through his paces

Greg Rutherford believes track and field sports are being left behind by their failure to embrace technology after seeing British Rowing’s approach to spotting the stars of the future.

The former Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth long jump champion was put through his paces along with high jump star Morgan Lake as part of British Rowing’s talent ID programme.

With help from its Official Analytics Partner, SAS, British Rowing has developed the Athlete Longitudinal Profiling (ALP) project to help streamline the talent identification and selection process and maintain British Rowing’s dominance in the sport.

Rutherford experienced the British Rowing specific World Class Start assessment first hand, which included strength and endurance tests, and the 31-year-old was blown away by the detail of the analysis.

“Track and field is often a very archaic sport and data analytics isn’t used enough - all these things can be used to aid training methods and understand how to better yourself,” he said.

“The approach British Rowing is taking is something I didn’t realise. It's fantastic and it’s going to open up a sport that people would assume is not for everybody, which is a wonderful thing.

Greg Rutherford

Greg Rutherford

“I think SAS’ data analytics expertise could be used across all sports. As we modernise and get into the 21st century - as some sports are stuck in the past - we’ll find that stat-driven training and development is something that could be really useful.

“Rather than saying if someone is tall and they should be a high jumper, this actually looks at their power and statistical output so you can have that as a data sheet to see what would work best for them.

“I think it’s a great way of doing it and I hope there is a bit more of it in the future because we can maximise the potential people would have rather than just looking at their physical attributes.”

Since 2014, SAS has been working with British Rowing to improve its data analytics capacity and capabilities, allowing the team to optimise already successful pathway programmes.

The specific rowing tests and the ALP project are able to accurately determine whether Rutherford and Lake would stand a chance of progressing on to the World Class Start programme or not.

Both Rutherford and Lake had their measurements recorded before taking part in a strength test on a Concept2 DYNO machine and an endurance test on a Schwinn Airdyne arm/leg bike.

And after being pushed to his limits by the tests, Rutherford admitted he was surprised to find out he had many of the attributes required to race competitively as a rower.

“It’s incredible to see that crossover. Something I’ve always been a huge advocate of is athletes trying other sports, as unless you try you don’t know if you could be good at another sport,” he said.

“British Rowing’s talent ID process is very different to track and field and I’ve learned that even though rowing is never a sport I’ve really considered, I’m not bad at it, which is fascinating for me.

“Before we did anything else, we measured height and arm span and the first thing that was said was that I was 2cms shorter than what they would expect as the minimum for a rower.

“So, before we even started, the dreams were dashed slightly, but then it was interesting that once we went into the actual leg press test, I think I set a new record. That then showed that you can make it up in slightly different ways and in athletics it doesn’t quite work like that.”

Despite having retired from long jump earlier this year, Rutherford said he has been busier than ever since hanging up his spikes – and he still has designs on competing at elite level once again.

The London 2012 champion is hoping to swap the sandpit for the velodrome and revealed he plans to take part in track cycling testing before the end of the year to see whether he can make the cut.

“What I’m saying about the cycling - and I want to be very clear on it - is that I’m not saying I’m going to go out there and be the new big thing, the new Sir Chris Hoy,” he said.

“I’m going to try and see if I’m good at it - it’s a very technical sport, there’s an awful lot to learn and I’ve never cycled in a velodrome before. There’s a hell of a lot that goes into it and I’m going to try.

“If they say, ‘Yes, you have the raw ability to be very good’, then I’ll train for it. If they say, ‘You’re good but we’ll see’, I don’t think that will be enough for me - I need to be very good at it or nothing.”

Greg Rutherford was speaking at a SAS event at British Rowing’s training base in Caversham, Berkshire. SAS – the leader in analytics software and services – is the Official Analytics Partner of British Rowing and is playing an integral role in the development of British Rowing’s Athlete Longitudinal Profiling (ALP) project. For further information visit www.sas.com