Data crucial to Watkins’ GB Rowing Team comeback

Three years ago Anna Watkins stood on the podium at London 2012 with a gold medal around her neck. A lot has changed since then; not only has she had two children, but GB Rowing has evolved, particularly in its use of data analytics.

Since Watkins and her Olympic gold medal-winning partner, Katherine Grainger, won gold at the London Games, the GB Rowing Team has undergone a serious shift in its reliance on and use of technology and data analytics. Crucially, SAS – a world leader in business analytics software – became ‘Official Analytics Partner’ of the GB Rowing Team and more widely British Rowing in May 2014, with its remit ultimately focusing on maximizing the squad’s medal potential ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Watkins commented: “Before SAS our data was a little bit lacking in cohesion. Your coach might have had access to data for the boat in general, whereas now even the crew has this super-flashy database where individual rowers can press a button and compare all sorts of facts about their performances.”

She went on to add: “I think there is a big breakthrough to be had in rowing by using data. Rowing is a funny sport because the scores we achieve on the indoor rowing machines don’t translate perfectly to what happens on the water. So it’s not straightforward. There’s a technical aspect; but to define what is perfect technique is almost impossible.”

Watkins has patiently observed performance director, Sir David Tanner’s squad from the sidelines throughout 2015, as they enjoyed varying amounts of success at World and European Championships. But the 32-year-old has decided enough is enough, and has boldly set her sights on earning a place in the team ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Comebacks are not uncommon in professional sport, especially in rowing – just ask Sir Steve Redgrave. But with the sport developing faster than ever, Watkins is far from certain to be a shoo-in. And her first assessment – a 2K test on an ergometer at the Princess Royal Sports Arena in Boston, Lincolnshire on 31 October – will ultimately determine whether she is to be reunited with her long-time friend, Grainger in the GB Squad.

Having graduated from Cambridge University and now pursuing a PhD in mathematics, Watkins is no stranger to numbers and is keen to discover how analysis of different aspects of training can help improve performance.

“I really like using the technology we have now to assess how well the blade of the oar strikes the water, and the angle it goes in. You can read detailed analysis of your blade through the water and even through the air – it’s amazing. The magic of that is that you can record it for a session and then go away and try and change it.”

The first stage in Watkins’ quest to be considered for a place in GB Rowing squad will take place in Boston, Lincolnshire, on 31 October and 1 November 2015, and all results will be available on the GB Rowing website –

About SAS

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