Brit favourite has the edge

February 8, 2002

If the national anthem plays when Alex Coomber collects a gold medal in the forthcoming Winter Olympics, a London academic will be justified in claiming some of the glory, writes Steve Farrar.

Peter Dabnichki's pioneering work could give the 28-year-old British athlete a crucial edge in the women's skeleton bobsleigh.

Ms Coomber has won the World Cup title three years in succession and is favourite to win Great Britain's first gold medal for 18 years.

Dr Dabnichki, sport mechanics and engineering group leader at Queen Mary, University of London, has worked with Ms Coomber for two years.

Using a light-weight telemetric system that he designed, Dr Dabnichki has analysed precisely how the sledge moves. The equipment records acceleration thousands of times a second and transmits the data to a receiver via a radio link. This allows Dr Dabnichki to assess the athlete's technique and explain how it could be improved.

His advice has already altered Ms Coomber's position and stride length in the crucial push that starts the skeleton bobsleigh's run.

"It has had a noticeable impact resulting in quite a time improvement," Dr Dabnichki said.

In the event, the athlete's chin rests a few centimetres above the ice as the sledge reaches speeds of up to 85mph. The 1.3km run takes about 50 seconds to complete.

Dr Dabnichki is in Salt Lake City helping Ms Coomber prepare for the competition, which is due to take place on February 20.

* A 125m bobsleigh track has been opened at the University of Bath to provide British athletes with their first home-based training facility.

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