Q&A with Senior Director of Competitive Analysis, Research and Innovation at the USOC Peter Vint

Peter Vint has achieved a long list of academic achievements, including a Ph.D. in Biomechanics from Arizona State University before serving as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Motor Control and earning his Professional Certificate in Olympic Sport Leadership from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Vint worked as a human factors research scientist at Research Integrations, Inc. and founded MotionMax Sports Performance before joining the USOC in 2005. He began his Olympic career as Senior Sport Technologist before being promoted to High Performance Director and Senior Director of Competitive Analysis, Research and Innovation.


MSBC: Will you give an overview of your progression within the USOC?

Vint: I started with the organization in the fall of 2005. I was brought in as Senior Sport Technologist, which involved developing, modifying and implementing various technological solutions to provide more effective feedback and performance measurement capabilities to coaches and athletes in the field. The promotion to Director of High Performance took place in 2009, just after the world championship season. That happened, ultimately, because my work as a sport technologist had come to a point where I felt that there were other things needed to help integrate the various services the USOC was providing from the sports science perspective. My work in a single domain was only capturing a part of the potential that I thought we had. If we could be better at integrating services from psychology and nutrition and physiology as well as biomechanics and technology, we would be able to address performance from a more comprehensive perspective and that, to me, was where my interest really lied. I took that position and led a group of sports science and medical professionals over the course of three years or so leading up to the London Olympics. The role involved two facets — one was management and direction of that team of professionals within the USOC and the other was to serve as the direct high performance liaison with several of our National Governing Bodies. My role was to be responsible for supporting Track and Field, Swimming, Shooting, Equestrian and Weightlifting. Those sports had delivered 63 medals in Beijing, so it was a very important and substantial group of sports from a performance perspective. In London we did one better — we ended up with 64. Some of the things, particularly with USA Track and Field, I think, were a reflection of the work our team had done in close cooperation with those National Governing Bodies.

Along the way, as part of my work as High Performance Director, I was trying to answer the question of how good were we on a discipline-by-discipline basis within each of the sports that I was responsible for supporting. I was finding that from a workflow and information standpoint, the USOC simply wasn’t capable at that time of delivering quick and easy and intuitive information on that front to define how good we were and therefore where our athletes were falling relative to the marks that were necessary to win medals at World Championships and Olympic Games. The work to find that out and answer those questions really just came from sheer brute force. It was a long and cumbersome task to accumulate the data and to do the analysis for those things essentially by hand. I felt that we, as an organization, could be and needed to be better in that regard and that we could make substantial improvements in this area. If we could do this across the organization, across the entire span of sports that the USOC is responsible for supporting, we would not only be more focused and targeted with the resources that we apply, whether that’s money or time or people, but we could also focus those resources in such a way that we could get disproportionate improvements in performance relative to what we’ve done in the past.

… In October of 2012, I accepted another promotion to Senior Director of Competitive Analysis, Research and Innovation. And, again, there are two major facets to that position. The first is the competitive analysis piece, which is all about, for lack of a better word, “Moneyball for Olympic sports”. The basic objective is to find out where we’re strong and where we’re not and provide information and guidance to help us focus our resources in a way that can let us make more targeted and performance-impacting decisions. The other piece of it, though, is the research and innovation piece. This piece is about reaching out to industry leaders and domain experts, whether they be in private business or in academia, and identify ways in which we can develop partnerships to help us solve very specific sport performance problems. They may be related to the aerodynamics of a sled or fabric designs or some of our sliding or high-velocity sports. There may be other applications of science and technology that exist in some other form, but need to be applied specifically to Olympic sport to help our Team USA coaches and athletes succeed and be the very best they can be. That piece of it is something, if we can gain some traction and actuate in the next four years or so, does have the potential to really help us not only leverage those partnerships and the very substantial expertise and entrepreneurialism that exists within the United States, but leverage that in such a way that it really helps us address very specific Olympic sport challenges.

MSBC: What specific project have you personally worked on that you’re most proud of?

Vint: I’m very proud of the work my team and I have done with USA Track and Field’s sport science program. My formal training is in an area called biomechanics, which is the study and quantification of human movement. By measuring and understanding technique and motion and the forces that produce those motions, we can either improve sport performance and/or hope to reduce the predisposition or severity of injury. Ideally, from a sport biomechanics world, that’s what we aspire to do. As a student of the field for a very long time, I had extensively studied the work that was coming from real pioneers in the field, and they were studying track and field disciplines — long jump, high jump, triple jump [and] discus. I was learning my trade and developing my expertise through reading this substantial body of literature that in the end had been funded in cooperation with USOC and USA Track and Field dollars. USA Track and Field, as a National Governing Body, has done a terrific job of supporting sport science and particularly biomechanics and physiology research over the past 30-35 years.

In my role as High Performance Director, coming at this from both [perspectives as] a student of the work … and also now responsible for providing recommendations on how best to allocate resources , I challenged USA Track and Field to answer the question of what value they felt they were getting for the time and money that was being put into these sports science programs. I did so because in many ways, the analyses and reports were written by academics and, in many ways, for academics. The work that was being delivered to coaches and athletes was often not being utilized to the extent that it could be. This was the challenge that I laid both in front of my team and USA Track and Field to say, “Are there ways in which we could either turn this program into something far more applied and useful to those that need the information the most or are we going to continue to spend money on what tends to be glorified applied scientific research?” My team and I worked closely with Benita Fitzgerald-Mosley, USA Track and Field’s Chief of Sport and Dr. Robert Chapman, USATF’s Associate Director of Sports Medicine and Science, and a few of the senior sport scientists that were involved with USA Track and Field and created a program that focused everyone’s efforts on creating a very applied and feedback-rich environment — a program that we called the Sports Science and Medicine Workshop. That was designed to get out of the model of very traditional research to foster more meaningful and useful interactions between the scientist, coach and athlete.

We embedded a sport scientist with a coach and athlete in the same training environment. We, essentially, encouraged and in many ways tried to change the behavior of the sport scientist to the point that they were taking their expertise and insights and letting those come out in the context of more of an instantaneous and spontaneous feedback and training session. In that way, while the scientist may not have felt as comfortable with the detail of data they were able to capture or provide, they also realized that this was probably an important and viable opportunity for their expertise and scientific insights to actually be used and integrated into the real world training environments. These programs were turned from a pretty traditional academic exercise into a very applied and action-centric integrated program that was happening in real time, face-to-face and person-to-person. The benefits of these programs have been documented over the time we’ve supported them and we think they’re substantial. We’ve seen 2.3 times the number of personal best/season best performances from the athletes who have participated in those programs versus those that have not. We know that these workshops can’t explain all of those improvements, but what we feel is that we’re making progress.

MSBC: What new innovations can we expect to see in Sochi and Rio?

Vint: One of the most publicly available innovations that I can describe generally, is a partnership led by our winter sport high performance director, Dr. Scott Riewald. Scott facilitated a program with US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and one of our USOC sponsors, BMW. Together, they have worked to redesign our bobsleds leveraging the sport expertise of our coaches and pilots and the engineering and design expertise of BMW. This has been taking place over the course of the last couple of years. It was done, I think, for very good and strong performance purposes. We had a terrific and long standing relationship with a group led by Geoff Bodine which had really helped bring American sled design into the forefront and really, we’re considered one of the worldwide leaders in this area. Following the 2010 Vancouver Games, that relationship endured a transition and Scott led the efforts to find another partner that would help us pick up where we left off and continue our legacy of building the best sleds in the world. In our relationship with BMW, I think, we were successful in that. We just launched our first set of sleds last year at the world championships and the results from those helped us further refine the design and the pilots are becoming more and more familiar and comfortable with the behavior of the sleds. That’s a good example of the types of things you’ll see in Sochi.

MSBC: How active are you in working with USOC partners?

Vint: Our marketing group is primarily responsible for bringing partners and sponsors into Team USA’s Olympic family. One of the things that we’ve done better than ever over the past couple years — and the opportunities to do even better are really well defined now — is we’ve been working with marketing to help them understand the types of things, from a sport performance standpoint, that challenge us and we’re looking to solve. Previously, the level of communication and the ways in which marketing and sport performance operated felt very much separate and distinct. I won’t say, necessarily, that those were ever at odds, but what has happened under the leadership of USOC Chief of Sport, Alan Ashley and our Chief Marketing Officer, Lisa Baird, is that we’ve aligned our efforts ever more closely, not only [through] our communication, but the willingness to discuss opportunities for activating sponsors onto very well defined sport performance challenges or opportunities. If we can continue to move in that direction and gain even deeper traction with our efforts in cooperation with marketing, I think, we’ll be far better off.

MSBC: Come Games time, what are you doing?

Vint: This time around, I think I’ll be back in an office running analysis of results as they come in and providing updates to our Chief of Sport and senior leadership about where, specifically, Team USA is performing relative to where we thought we’d be performing and relative to historical timelines. In previous Games, the roles would change from being directly involved in supporting one or more of our sports during competition and training, providing performance analysis support related to scouting or technical analysis or simply providing video for coaches and athlete review. Or it might have involved just helping on the operations side. … The roles of everybody during the Games tend to be blurred a bit and it’s really a remarkable operation to be a part of. The level of support that goes in behind the team is really remarkable and it’s one of the things that I’m proudest of in terms of my relationship with this organization. I would say that on any given day you could be running very high-level analysis of a sporting event or providing specific guidance or expertise as our dietitians or psychologists may do. Or you could be carrying Powerade bottles up the stairs to refill the refrigerator. It really ranges and all titles drop away during the Games and people just come together and do what it takes to support the team.

MSBC: Either as a spectator or as a part of the movement do you have a favorite Olympic moment?

Vint: One of the reasons that I find myself here in the organization is I really connected to Dan Jansen’s story when he was skating in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Seeing him suffer through incredible setbacks and disappointments in the 1988 and 1992 Games only to finally achieve a gold medal performance in the 1994 Games was simply inspiring. His personal story really resonated with me and I remember just physically shaking as I watched him compete. I have, as I think many people in the Olympic family do, some kind of emotional, visceral connection to the movement that keeps us here and keeps us passionate and keeps us connected.

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