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Olympic-Sized Tech

By Sean Ostruszka


Team USA’s Alan Ashley speaks for latest DeVry Tech Talk

Alan Ashley’s margin for error is 1/100th of a second.

As Chief of Sports Performance for Team USA, that split second can mean the difference between a medal around his athletes’ necks or nothing. It’s been far more of the former since he took over in 2010, as Team USA has topped the overall Olympic medal counts at the 2010, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.

So how has he been able to succeed in an ultra-competitive world with virtually no margin of error? That’s what Ashley discussed during the latest DeVry University Tech Talk, “The Tech Edge: Forging High-Performance Teams,” on Wednesday, Sept. 20.

“Nothing has been more important for us, especially in the last few years, as data, technology and how we use both,” Ashley said.

Speaking to a packed room inside a room overlooking Times Square in New York City, Ashley told how a lot of the decision-making for coaches and trainers was subjective when he first started. That all changed 4 years ago, when Team USA invested in a “pretty significant” database. More than 50 million lines of code grab data daily on every major sporting event around the world. For the first time, Ashley and his team could begin to predict medal expectancy, even utilizing a modified chess algorithm for competitors in team or judged sports. 

The data was good and interesting, but to coaches, it was just numbers. That is, until Ashley’s team began developing technology to turn those numbers into tools.

From an elite health-monitoring app that helps prevent injuries and gain insights into an athlete’s individual peak performance metrics to virtual-reality scenarios to train for the stresses of competition, technology and data immediately transformed Team USA’s training. And thanks to cloud computing and smart devices, it happened in real time.

One example Ashley gave was shot putters. Prior to this revolution, a coach may say a toss was “too flat.” Now, sensors, radar and video combine to let a coach know “flat” is 30 degrees while the ideal is 36-38 degrees.

Though DeVry student Christina Smith was previously unaware of how Team USA was using data and technology, she made sure to attend because she wants to observe all ways technology are transforming modern-day businesses.

“I like to experience and learn everything I can about technology,” Smith said. “I’m not that interested in sports, but I am from a tech standpoint.”

For Shahed Mustafa, an associate professor of NCM engineering & information science with DeVry, the talk was a unique opportunity for his students to understand how technology and the real world are working together more all the time.

“So many of my students love athletics,” Mustafa said. “So it’s useful for them to see how cloud computing and visualization in sports is the future.”

Do you have a DeVry university student, faculty or alumni story to tell? Email Sean Ostruszka at SOstruszka@devry.edu