Computer technology from a small Swiss company is playing a big role in ensuring athletes hit peak performance at the Athens Olympics.
Software produced by Fribourg-based Dartfish is used by 90 per cent of United States athletes at the Games and has been credited with improving results.
The name may not mean much to television viewers, but sports fans around the world have probably seen Dartfish technology at work.
Its original broadcast product, SimulCam, has been around since the end of the 1990s.
It was first tested during World Cup ski races, superimposing images of racers and giving spectators the opportunity to see how two skiers compared coming down the slope.
Today, the technology has been applied to a variety of sports, from ski jumping to Formula One motor racing.
But despite a global presence, SimulCam generates just 15 per cent of the company’s turnover.
Dartfish’s cash cow is its performance analysis software, which combines SimulCam with StroMotion, a programme that generates freeze-frames of an athlete’s movements.
A small video camera and a laptop computer are all that are needed to highlight strengths and weaknesses.
Images from different training sessions can be superimposed to see what needs to be improved.
The main advantage of the software is its simplicity. “We have managed to make an impact because it’s not difficult to use,” said Dartfish chief executive Jean-Marie Ayer.
Ayer certainly believes that his company’s product can make a contribution to a competitor’s results.
“We hope it can be a major legal performance-enhancing product,” he told swissinfo.
The software is used by 5,000 top-level athletes, and Dartfish is banking on Olympic success to further boost sales.
The company would also like to expand into different markets, and it is now pursuing opportunities in the education sector.
In Britain, 350 secondary schools have adopted the technology for physical education classes – not to generate world-class athletes, but to improve teaching and the student performances.
The company’s long-term aim is to see the software used by coaches and athletes at every level.
Television sales may only represent a small share of Dartfish’s revenue, but the small screen remains its calling card. SimulCam is being used by seven networks during the Olympic Games.
“Our presence in Athens allows us to sell our packages to trainers,” explained Emmanuel Reusens, head of broadcast for Dartfish.
Reusens says that despite being Dartfish’s oldest product, the system still has room to grow.
“We receive plenty of requests from broadcasters for improvements, even if we can’t satisfy them every time,” he added.
“But by combining video with sensor and tracking technology, we have enough possibilities to upgrade our system.”
swissinfo, Scott Capper
Dartfish was created at the end of 1998.
Investors have pumped SFr17.8 million ($14.4 million) into the company so far, and it broke even for the first time during the first quarter of 2004.
Sales were worth SFr5.5 million in 2003, and should reach SFr7.5 million this year.
25 people work for Dartfish, including eight in the United States.