Athletes launch in to their best dive with Data61’s Dive Mechanic

By Sue White

8 August 2016


What do elite diving and computer gaming have in common? In the women’s diving competition at least, the answer is: more than you might think.

As in many sports, part of the key to success in diving is practice, practice, practice. But given that ‘practice’ is an open-ended prospect, knowing where each individual athlete should spend that time can pay big dividends when it comes to competitions.

The biomechanics of diving aren’t straightforward: both large and small movements of the arms, legs, torso and neck are required to produce somersaults, twists and safe entry into the water. Even the slightest change to any one of these movements can result in a very different performance, and of course, potential results. For coaches and divers, this brings some challenges in training. How can changes to technique be investigated without wasting valuable training time and possibly exposing the athlete to higher injury risk?

When it came to preparing our female divers for competition, this seemingly simple question quickly took on a gold medal-like complexity: “For this specific diver with this particular body type, doing this exact dive, what makes the perfect dive?”

A new piece of software, Dive Mechanic, developed by our Data61 team, came up with the answer: using modelling, computational physics and biomechanics they created a responsive software tool that helps coaches predict real life results in the pool. Dive Mechanic enables coaches and athletes to see dives from any angle, and conduct instant, highly detailed and accurate experiments to improve performance.

The software, developed specifically for coaches and athletes at Diving Australia (via a program funded by the Australian Institute of Sport), looks a bit like a computer game: change the variables in Dive Mechanic and you can make the figure on screen move in a different way.

Should the diver enter the somersault by jumping high but spinning slowly, or spin more quickly without jumping as high? What would happen if the athlete went into their tuck earlier or straightened out later? Results are instant, practical and easy to demonstrate.

While Dive Mechanic is useful for single divers, it’s doubly so in pair work. Just imagine two bodies of different shapes and weights being required to launch, move and land in sync: Dive Mechanic helps demonstrate who needs to change what so the team can perform at its peak. For the Australian women’s synchronised divers, Dive Mechanic software has been used in its pre-competition training regime to do just that. The Australian divers–who complete five dives each – were videoed doing each dive four times over a twelve-month period.

After the results were fed into the Dive Mechanic software and digitised by Data61’s researchers, coaches could easily show athletes how one small tweak to technique would impact each final dive: if diver one could just tuck a little earlier, while diver two leaps a little higher – perfection, or at least, a quick and injury-free way to strive for it.

Watch Data61’s Dive Mechanic software in action:

To find out more about Data61, visit our website.