In stride toward Olympics, the camera catches all

Health & Fitness


Without media or fanfare, Mishael Bertrand-Berger was watched by a dozen eyes as she sprinted around the indoor track at the Baylor Tom Landry Center in Dallas, steps that she hoped would take her closer to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The eyes, attached to 12 high-speed MX40 motion-capture cameras in Baylor's Motion & Sports Performance Center, recorded the biomechanics of her stride in three dimensions.

Knowing the tiniest details of how she's moving helps Bertrand-Berger focus her workouts.

"You see the imperfections in your form," says the former University of Texas-Arlington track star. "I'm probably wasting energy with my movements side to side. If I can correct that, think what I'll gain. Anything could help when it comes down to seconds to qualify for the next level."

Bertrand-Berger, 26, finished sixth at the USA Track & Field National Championships in the 800-meter run with a time of 2 minutes, 3.87 seconds this summer. She will have to run a comparable, but yet to be announced, national qualifying standard to qualify for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. At the trials, the top three finishers make the Olympic team.

"It gives you a whole different look at her running form," says her coach, UT-Arlington cross-country and track coach John Sauerhage. "It's easy to see things you couldn't detect with the naked eye. That's what I like about it."

Bertrand-Berger and five other Olympic hopefuls were tested recently at the lab, which analyzes and interprets human movement.

Brooks Johnson, director of the high-performance division of USA Track & Field, likes what he has seen as well. He pushed for USATF to partner with the Baylor Tom Landry Center, designating it as a High Performance Center and Center of Excellence for USA Track & Field. He's hopeful that the U.S. Olympic Committee will do the same.

Johnson's mission is to help USATF athletes win more medals in world championship and Olympic competition. He says he thinks the organization can assist its athletes best by applying the latest scientific and technological advancements.

"We want to enhance athletic performance without using illegal drugs," Johnson says. "The thing we have an abundance of that is underutilized is science and technology. We should exploit that to our advantage."

Dr. Jay Mabry, chief of orthopedics at Baylor University Medical Center, teamed with Fabian Pollo, Ph.D., an orthopedic researcher and director of the lab, to bring in the latest technology and to locate at the Baylor Tom Landry Center.

The technology was developed nearly 20 years ago for medical purposes such as identifying the source of joint and neuromuscular problems, says Brian Baum, the lab's coordinator. The new cameras, which record at 10,000 frames per second and can accurately capture extremely fast motion, could be of great use in improving sports performance.

The 12 cameras simultaneously record a subject's motion. In Bertrand-Berger's case, she repeatedly ran the 25-meter strip, or capture zone, where the cameras recorded her image. She sported 47 small markers, or reflective spheres, placed at all her joints.

Each lens has light-emitting diodes that reflect off the markers back to each camera. The system then records the markers' positions. A force platform also records a three-dimensional analysis of the loads on a joint and the power generated and absorbed across a joint.

The lab also can produce electromyographic recordings, which provide information on muscular activity. The reports indicate which muscles are being fired and how strongly they're being fired.

"That means we can tell which muscles are being used for what functions and what happens when they get fatigued," Johnson says. "So we can know which muscles to strengthen in order to improve. This allows discrete, precise and strategic strengthening, which is different and superior to illegal drugs."

The lab synchronizes all the data gathered along with a digital video into a 3-D skeletal reconstruction and model of movement in real time. The results are presented on a simple interactive CD. A clinician can then manipulate the skeletal image in 3-D space, while simultaneously viewing the digital video or the graphs detailing the joint angle, velocity or athlete's acceleration. The image can show any movement, including how and when the toe strikes the ground, how the pelvis rotates or how the shoulders sway.

In Bertrand-Berger's case, Johnson noticed that she has an unnecessary upper-trunk rotation. If she can eliminate it, she could run more efficiently and expend that energy toward running faster for longer.

Mabry says the lab's potential to research any type of sports action or any type of motion difficulty drew him to Dallas. Mabry, whose department oversees the lab, has followed the technological advancements of motion labs for several years.

"The breadth and impact of the lab spans elite Olympic athletes all the way to children with spastic diplegia [which is related to cerebral palsy] that are barely able to walk," he says.

Debbie Fetterman writes for the Dallas Morning News.

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