VR is becoming an increasingly important part of everyone’s training toolset—including Paralympic athletes at the top of their game
➨ Paralympic alpine skier Adam Hall won his fourth medal this week at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing, after preparing for the event in VR
➨ Hall and fellow New Zealand Paralympians Corey Peters and Aaron Ewen used VR tools created by a team at the University of Canterbury to prepare for the 2022 Winter Paralympics
➨ The team behind the VR tools aimed to improve ‘mental imagery’ training so that athletes were more prepared to compete
It would not be outlandish to claim that virtual reality (VR) technology has never helped an athlete to win a medal before. Well, it certainly is now, because Paralympic alpine skier Adam Hall won his fourth medal this week at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing, after preparing for the event in VR.
Hall, attending his fifth games and representing New Zealand, was in 15th place after the morning run but was later able to produce the second-fastest slalom run of the day to move up 12 places and claim a bronze medal.
Speaking after winning a bronze medal on the slalom slope, Hall praised the VR training he undertook before the games: “I’d been able to work on some really amazing virtual reality stuff on this hill in particular, which we’ve studied for quite some time now.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced athletes preparing to compete in the 2022 Winter Paralympics to seek alternative training solutions. Hill said: “The test event was cancelled last season (and) with the virtual reality stuff it gave us an opportunity to be here at the test event without being here, which was really cool.”
Hall and fellow New Zealand Paralympians Corey Peters and Aaron Ewen used VR tools created by a team at the University of Canterbury to prepare for the 2022 Winter Paralympics.
The tools, produced by the New Zealand university’s Human Interface Technology Lab (HIT Lab NZ) and funded by High Performance Sport NZ, allowed the athletes to hone their skills and prepare themselves psychologically for the real-life challenges they were going to face on the slopes in Beijing.
Stephan Lukosch, professor of applied immersive games at HIT Lab NZ, led the team that created the VR tools for national sporting organisation Snow Sports NZ. He, along with game developer Ryan McKee and game designer Shunsuke Fukuden, aimed to improve ‘mental imagery’ training so that athletes were more prepared to compete.
Speaking earlier in March, Lukosch said: “It’s about being able to imagine how a course is going to look and learning how to manage that. Evidence shows that providing a training experience that is as close as possible to reality can enhance performance. We’re really happy with the positive feedback we’ve had from the snow sports athletes who have been using our products.”
Skiers Hall, Peters and Ewen trained on a VR simulation of the Beijing downhill course using Meta Quest 2 headsets, while the New Zealand Winter Olympic team’s park and pipe athletes used the start gate simulation and slopestyle course flyover.
High Performance Sport NZ analyst Dr Cameron Ross, who supports Snow Sports NZ, said the HIT Lab’s work gave the team a competitive advantage ahead of tackling the Xiaohaituo Mountain Area, which has one of the steepest racetracks in the world.
Ross said: “They’ve created something that we feel no other country has access to and it’s been particularly valuable considering the Covid-19 restrictions on travel. No-one was able to go to the location before the games except for the Chinese team and after using our tools the athletes felt as though they’d already been there, so this kind of training is incredibly important.”
Snow Sports NZ adaptive snow sports manager Jane Stevens, who is in charge of New Zealand’s Paralympic Winter Games teams, added: “This is a very inventive way to get around the travel restrictions and psychologically it’s been a massive help. The HIT Lab has exceeded our expectations and the university has gone above and beyond with what they’ve done for us.”
“The experience has really paid dividends in the confidence of the athletes going into Beijing and been a key factor in them believing in themselves. All of them have used this technology to the nth degree. Considering our build-up and all the things that have happened, this is the one thing that we keep coming back to and saying, ‘Listen, we’ve got this tool, back yourselves’. It’s been incredible.”
Images: University of Canterbury