The Inside Track - Big data's role in GB Cycling success at Rio 2016


Justin Warhust, Finance Director, explains how important the role of data and marginal gains has been to Team GB Cycling's Olympic success.

I’m still in total awe of the performances of the GB cycling team in Rio. Everything from the sheer raw athletic prowess of each member of the team to the support for each other throughout the competition. I have found myself emitting lots of GOLs (Gasp Out Louds) whilst sitting right on the edge of my settee at home, dizzy with disbelief at what I have just watched.

As a non-cyclist (well, apart from the 5 minute ride to my allotment each evening), I’ve also loved watching Sir Chris Hoy talking to Clare Balding in between races too. His knowledge is exceptional both in terms of general Olympic knowledge (he is also an Olympic history “nerd”) and of everything about cycling – from psychology to technique, from tactics to velodrome atmospheric conditions.

There are 2 things he has said that have stood out as particularly memorable for me.

The first is around support for his team, when he “admitted” how, in the Team Pursuit, when his race was run and he dropped out to leave the final three to finish, thinking “what can I do to help my team”, he used to turn and blow in front of the other team, hoping that that small blow might cause some sort of air turbulence and slow down the other team by a fraction of the second – great team support and also quite comical.

The second thing was Sir Chris’ response when asked what the most important factor in GB’s continued performance improvement. He thought for a second and then said it wasn’t the equipment, it wasn’t the marginal gains: it was the data they collect and use to improve performance. By measuring performance and results in every area possible, the team are able to understand what is and isn’t working, and to act accordingly.

I think a lot of people have used the marginal gains lessons to look to improve business performance. Sir Chris Hoy’s words are a reminder of the power of measuring the impact of such gains, in order to maximise their impact.

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