Me and my tech: Interview with British Olympic snowboarder Zoe Gillings-Brier

The domains of technology and sport are blurring at a rapid rate, as more and more of the top athletes, coaches and clubs embrace all that technology has to offer for both training and competition.

Zoe Gillings-Brier, Olympic Snowboarder and Great Britain’s No 1 Snowboard X athlete, is a strong advocate of the use of technology to aid sporting performance and we recently got the chance to talk to her about it.

What tech do you commonly use when you’re out on the slopes?

I use a lot of video equipment. I have three cameras for filming my training; a helmet camera (GoPro), the camera on my iPhone and a Quadcopter (a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+). I also have a Transporter, a private cloud appliance, which enables me to upload these large video files onto my own private cloud for my snowboarding or fitness coach to watch and feed back.

My coach uses an app called Coach’s Eye, which means you can pause the video footage, slow the film down, talk over it and even draw on it. Just like you see commentators do on Match of the Day or at Wimbledon. My coach can explain a technique or show me where I need to improve. He’ll say things like – “on this jump bend your knees a bit more”.

This is all possible because the Transporter is so fast. When I used to use Dropbox, apart from the privacy concerns, it used to take hours as each edit was uploaded and downloaded to the cloud. With the Transporter, it takes minutes instead of hours. I can get almost instant feedback.

So, it’s as good as having my coach here, but without the costs of his hotel and flights. There is little funding for professional snowboarders in the UK yet, so anywhere I can save money gives me an advantage.

How has the role of technology changed in the last few years with regards to your personal training/performance?

Technology is getting more important in sport. For example, I use my GoPro so I can record the view when I run down the course. This gives me additional training because I can watch it later on a big screen and stand in front, rehearsing the movements. It’s a great opportunity to visualise the course. It must look odd to watch, but this gives me vital extra practice away from the snow.

I also have a robotic cameraman – called Soloshot – which is a camera, on a tripod that can track me as I’m training. A matchbox sized GPS tracker, which straps on my arm, allows the Soloshot cameras to follow me wherever I go.

All the footage from all these cameras will be uploaded onto the Transporter for my coaches and I to watch. These advances in technology enable me to train in a totally different way.

Can these same changes be seen throughout your sport or are you still in the minority with your use of technology?

I’m something of a pioneer in terms of using technology in snowboarding. Five or six years ago no one was using cameras. I was one of the first snowboarders to use a GoPro and Quadcopter for training.

I think only one other person is using Soloshot that I know of. I don’t know if anyone else is using Transporter, I might be the first there as well. I am a big technology fan.

From a performance point of view, how important do you think it is to stay on top of the latest technology trends?

Massively important. The thing is, with sport, if you can find anything that will give you, even the smallest advantage you’ve got to take it. So, you’ve got to keep an open mind.s

Does your coach encourage the use of technology?

Yes, it was my fitness coach who recommended the Coach’s Eye app. Technology allows my coach to do more too. If we use the Soloshots to film my race, then my coach is free to actually watch me, whilst a robot does the filming saving the cost of a cameraman.

Where do you think technology can have the biggest impact in sport: Training or performance? And why?

It makes the biggest difference in training because you can make the best use of your resources, i.e. time and money. Instead of flying my coach over from Canada I can save money on his flights and accommodation and get long-distance coaching using the apps, camera and my Transporter. That’s a lot of money over the course of a year.

The money saved can be used to buy more equipment or to fund additional races. So, it has real impact.

But, the biggest game changer for me has been the Transporter. It makes all the video sharing/coaching possible and it enables me to access all my video files wherever I am without maxing out the storage on my laptop.

I also run an online business, which helps to fund my snowboarding. I couldn’t do that without the Transporter, which enables me to work wherever I happen to be. That in turn, funds my snowboarding. So, without the capabilities technology gives me, and the time and money it saves me, my world as an athlete, would look very different.