As the U.S. women’s ice hockey team skated to its first Olympic gold medal since 1998, stitched into the sweaters on the backs of every player was a small motion sensor weighing fewer than 10 grams and transmitting reams of data over a dedicated frequency to antennas installed throughout the arena. Combined with camera-tracking of the puck, the Omega Timing system can tally each’s player number of shifts, passes, speed, acceleration, time on ice and more.
That information is generated, processed and distributed in fewer than 100 milliseconds, with some of the statistics displayed on television broadcasts or on the stadium scoreboard. International hockey does not permit on-bench access to this data — the NHL allows iPads for video review — so coaches and players can see the information after the game.
“The analytics and the statistics that we can generate through these sensors will allow to explain exactly how a goal was scored, how he got to the goal — for both teams, for the one scoring it and the one [allowing] it,” Omega Timing CEO Alain Zobrist told SportTechie from PyeongChang, South Korea. “Those information will be available in real-time so we can have very accurate game analysis and player stats coming out of these sensors.”
Omega’s system successfully debuted at the 2016 Youth Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, prompting its rollout to these 2018 Games. The NHL has announced plans to implement its own tracking system for the 2019-2020 season. As the league considers its choice of vendors — Sportvision, for instance, operated the system for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey that included NHL players — Omega will be in the mix as well.
“When we develop the technology, it is not only for the Olympics,” he said, adding: “We definitely want to see the technology deployed in sports overall.”
Omega, which began timing the Olympics in 1932, is using similar systems in alpine skiing, speedskating, ski jumping, bobsledding and events like big air and halfpipe, where the tracking info includes jump height and rotation. On the bobsleds, g-force, braking, positioning and acceleration are among the data points.
While Zobrist, like all tracking system operators, emphasized that this is “just additional information” and “not the only factor that can be used to judge players,” the potential to inform all of the stakeholders (athletes, coaches, fans, et al.) is immense. Sports Innovation Lab’s Angela Ruggiero — a Hockey Hall of Famer who was on the previous U.S. team to win gold in 1998 — raved about the system to steaming news network Cheddar.
“So fans now can see who’s sprinting the most, who’s got the top speed, what distance have they covered — things your coaches traditionally had to clock with a stopwatch and then [report] after the fact,” Ruggiero said. “These athletes are getting it in real-time, and actually the fans are getting engaged in real-time.”