EPSI launches a series of interviews where our members have the opportunity to present themselves and their expertise for EPSI and the added value they give to the entire network. University of Limerick inaugurates the format with this interesting interview with Drew Harrison (Associate Professor di Biomechanics).

Could you present your University? What are your excellences? 

Since 1990, the University of Limerick (UL) has established a strong reputation for excellence in sport and human performance throughout Ireland and internationally due to its excellent sports and research facilities and its courses in the Sport Sciences. In 2020, the Shanghai World University Rankings in Sport and Exercise Science ranked UL between 51-100 out of over 300+ departments of Sport Sciences globally, therefore ranking Sport/ Sports Sciences research as amongst the highest ranked research disciplines in the University of Limerick. In 2021 the University established the Sport and Human Performance Research Centre (SHPRC) as a priority research centre to support the research interests of an important group of academics and researchers and their collaborators in the broad areas of Sport and Human performance research. 

 The research staff and collaborators in this discipline have established a strong research output, and in the last 3 years and have published over 144 ISI ranked articles and reviews with 67 [46.5%] of these in quartile 1. The members of the SHPRC have obtained more than €7.02 m in research funding since 2018 despite the lack of ring-fenced funding for sport-related research nationally. Researchers in SHPRC have also been successful in recruiting more than 20 Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarships and have a strong track record of PhD completions. The members of the centre have already established a large number of industry, professional and community links both nationally and internationally to support the research activities of the centre and facilitate outreach and translational research activity. 

The core mission of the SHPRC is  “to advance interdisciplinary research in sport and human performance” and it is closely aligned with the UL@50 Strategic Plan to  support the delivery of  “UL@50”, build on our existing reputation in Sport and Human Performance and seeks to extend collaborative networks across UL,  nationally and internationally. The research within the centre is broadly focused on four key themes (eSports, Irish Rugby Injury Surveillance, Jockey Health and Sprint Start technologies). 

Could you tell us one of your recent projects?

Recent Project:  Feasibility Analysis of Sprint Start Technologies (FASST)

Background: Ensuring fairness in competition is a key requirement in protecting the integrity of all sports. The advancement in new technologies provides opportunities for many sports events to improve fair application of rules with improved reliability and objectivity. For example, the introduction of video assisted refereeing in soccer and Rugby has improved fairness in team sports where key decision may seriously impact on the outcome of competition. Despite these obvious benefits, some sports have been slower to implement new technologies to ensure fairness. For example, in track and field athletics, the technology for detecting take-off infringements in the horizontal jumps remains very rudimentary and only recently has video evidence been introduced to detect these rule infringements. One clear area for improved decision making in track events is the detection of false starts in sprint events, where major revisions are required to scientifically determine the minimum response time, and further enhancement of event detection technology is required automatically determine false starts.

The FASST Project: The sprint start is highly regulated and false starts are detected using sensors on the starting blocks (detecting changes in block force). Currently the detection of the start using block sensors represents the state of the art. Research on this project has shown that the first response to the start signal in the sprint start is an increase in the ground reaction force under the hands (hand force). This always occurs before the block force response but the time interval between the hand force and block force is variable, therefore the block force is not an appropriate measure or predictor of the athlete’s first response. The FASST project seeks to improve detection of false starts in athletics by measuring the athletes’ first response to the start signal, i.e. the hand force. The project also seeks to improve event detection algorithms that can be used to automatically determine responses of hand and/or block forces. Our research has also demonstrated that the current response time latency period, currently set at 100 ms is not valid and will vary depending of the technology used to determine response time. Therefore, a revision of the minimum response time, based on more robust evidence is urgently required.

The overall objectives of the FASST project are:

  • To make the sprint start fair for all athletes.
  • To provide technology that supports athletics officials in their endeavours to be fair to all.
  • To ensure objectivity in judgements of disqualification.
  • To provide the strongest possible scientific support for the application of World Athletics competition rules.
  • To review the response time delay period (currently 100 ms) 

To date, the project has developed and tested several prototype hand plate systems and the latest version provides an elegant solution using a low profile (3 mm thick) plate, which can be place on the track under the athlete’s hand. The project focuses on improving fairness in track and field athletics but can be broadened to encompass other sports such as swimming where similar technologies may be useful. 

What are your long-term plans or objectives, in particular with respect to your European outreach?

The long-term plans for SHPRC and its research themes are to identify collaborators in projects of mutual interest and develop fruitful collaborations with colleagues across Europe. It is hoped that these collaborations to lead to submissions of joint projects funded within Europe. We also know there is a need to broaden the scope of our research activities and develop them into broader programmes with improved alignment to funding themes. Therefore further growth is required through outreach to potential European partners to help us develop effective networks with other researchers, sports governing bodies and enterprise.

Why have you joined EPSI?

We have joined EPSI to help us identify partners and networks with researchers working on areas of common interest. We also see potential benefits through EPSI in helping us to extend our links to other stakeholders in our research including enterprise. We have developed our own SHPRC Strategic plan to map the intended development of SHPRC over the next 5 years. As shown here below, we consider EPSI as a key platform to allow our centre to develop collaborations and networks across Europe.