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Millennium institute of sport & health

News World-first research in Olympics’ newest sport

BMX is the newest kid on the Olympic block. It’s fast-paced, high energy, and according to researcher John Cowell, riders need a few screws loose to race.
Cowell, AUT PhD student and New Zealand Academy of Sport strength and conditioning coach based at AUT Millennium Campus on Auckland’s North Shore , is currently leading world-first research into the power output of BMX riders. Ultimately this research will help to produce faster BMX riders and enhance New Zealand’s gold medal prospects in Olympics newest sport.
“BMX was only introduced as an Olympic sport in 2008. It’s not a sport that is thoroughly understood, especially when considered in the context of athletics or other cycling disciplines. It’s time we pull it from obscurity,” says Cowell.
BMX is a very technique-intensive sport, but most of the training is currently based on intuition and experience, not objective measures or data. Currently there is no existing science around BMX power output.
“BMX riders not only have to be strong, they have to be powerful … and a little extreme! The research we are doing is unique in that we’re the first to do it. Essentially, we want to know how to make our riders faster than anyone else. A lot of the existing cycling research for the various disciplines is just not applicable to what we do,” he says.
BMX is unlike any other cycling discipline as it’s contested primarily from a standing position. It’s also a mass start event, and the pedaling efforts are continuous with over 30% of time spent pedaling (as much time pedaling is spent in the air).
 Cowell – who is also Lead Strength and Conditioning provider at Bike NZ - says that currently there’s not a strong relationship with BMX training performance versus racing performance: “Our research goal is to initially quantify the sport – how much are riders pedaling, jumping, cornering etc? These factors have to be considered to improve overall performance.”
Although it’s the newest Olympic sport, New Zealand’s medal prospects are already looking exceptionally strong.
“Currently we have Sarah Walker, who was the 2009 World Champion, and Marc Willers, who was one of the top three riders in the world last year. BMX talent in New Zealand is only getting deeper,” says Cowell.
AUT’s partnership with the Millennium Institute of Sport and Health is a key ingredient in developing BMX as a high performance sport in New Zealand and increasing our medal prospects on an international stage. For a country of just over  four million people, New Zealand’s medal tally is amongst the best in the world in terms of per capita, but the race is getting harder as other nations invest more money into sports development.
“The challenge is for New Zealand to keep up with them,” says Mike Stanley, CEO of the Millennium Institute and President of the New Zealand Olympic Committee.
New Zealand’s per capita investment in high performance sport is on par with leading developed nations; however our current investment per athlete lags behind sporting super powers.
Relatively new sports like BMX provide a big opportunity for New Zealand and we already have a number of world class riders, says Stanley.
“Being fast off the start is a critical part of BMX racing and research into the key elements – equipment, power and start technique is vital to achieve an edge in this formative part of the race.”
“High performance coaches have many skills and are highly experienced in improving athlete performance. However, they also need tools and information that can provide a better understanding of their athlete’s level of performance, their strengths and weaknesses, how they are tracking and how they can improve,” he says.
AUT Millennium Campus provides a home for high performance athletes, coaches and researchers. Offering services to New Zealand’s best athletes that include high performance coaches, specialist world-class training facilities and on-site sports medicine and science support services.
BMX is one of 16 different sports benefiting from the strength and conditioning services that AUT Millennium Campus provides and is the base for The New Zealand Academy of Sport North Island (NZASNI), and the high performance centre for Swimming NZ and Olympic Weightlifting NZ.

by Millenium Institute of Sport and Health