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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Technology helps train skeleton racers

Mar. 1, 2018

Skeleton is one of the most challenging and thrilling winter sports. Skeleton racers lie face down on their sleds and rocket head-first down a steep ice track. NHK filmed riders using a special camera that captures video images 360 degrees around the rider. The technology is expected to help skeleton athletes sharpen their skills.

Racers zip off at speeds up to 140 kilometers per hour. We tried to capture on video at Japan's only skeleton track what a rider experiences during a run down the track. The camera can obtain an all-round view of the athlete. You can choose the angle from where you want to see the rider and the course.

Riding on the sled is former Japanese skeleton athlete Yuki Sasahara, who competed in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He was impressed by the video. Until now, a racer could check his or her performance only by watching footage from cameras set up at the venue. "I think careful analysis of this footage can be used to help riders improve their performance. In particular, the rear view is great," says Sasahara.

Sasahara believes the technology could help train young skeleton racers. He has high hopes for high school student Rin Kinoshita. Sasahara believes Rin could become Japan's top skeleton athlete once he develops the necessary skills to steer the sled.

Rin took up the sport 4 years ago. He boasts the fastest time for a running start among Japan's skeleton athletes. But he has problems with his cornering skills. Rin bumps into the sides right after navigating a curve. "I skidded sideways, so I need to correct that," he says.

The two compare each other's 360 degree videos ahead of an upcoming competition. As Rin rounds the corner, he fails to resist the centrifugal force, and his body is pushed toward the side. But Sasahara consciously leans his body in to travel the shortest distance around the bend. "I'm resisting the outward force here," he explains.

Sasahara says Rin is slightly off his timing when he turns his body toward the corner. "The video makes it easier to show how it should be done, especially the timing. It allows you to look at your own performance from a fresh and different angle," says Sasahara.

Rin soon after competes in the All Japan Skeleton Championships. He is able to put in a consistent performance when tackling the corners. He comes in 5th, his best finish at the event, with his fastest time ever. "The video allowed me to better visualize my performance. I'm getting closer to the times of Japan's top racers and that's given me confidence," he says.

"Nothing beats an actual run down the skeleton track as a way of training. But the good thing about the video is that it provides so much information about a single run. It's really exciting to be able to train someone using state-of-the-art technology," says Sasahara.

The track will be shut down at season's end, making the videos taken with the 360 degree camera even more important for racers like Rin. And perhaps their next all-round view will be from atop the podium.