Explained: How does a heart-rate monitor show the tension on an Olympic archer’s face?

The technology that tracks biometric data in real time is a first for the Olympics and archery.

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When did World Archery implement the heart-rate monitor for athletes?

The decision to use a heart monitoring device on athletes was taken in the early 2010s. In 2012, World Archery wanted to implement Swiss company TABRASCO’s miniature device. The device would be attached just below the archer’s knee and give out real-time data on how many heartbeats per minute (BPM) an archer would go through, and what the variations in the BPM would be at different stages of a match. All of this data was meant to be shown live as the contest was going on.

After years of deliberation and changes in technology, World Archery finally unveiled a televised version of their use of the technology at these Olympics.

“On TV, it’s hard to feel the tension of archers who have to score 10,” said Tom Dielen, secretary general of World Archery. “I want to show their vivid tension.”

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Explained: How does a heart-rate monitor show the tension on an Olympic archer’s face?

How does the heart-rate monitor work?

The world body for archery collaborated with Japanese giants Panasonic to set up cameras all over the venue. What these cameras do is pick up changes in the colour of the skin of an archer, if and how much the pupils are dilating, and collect this data in real time to quickly come to the conclusion of the BPM an archer is currently going through.

“Heart rates are calculated by four sets of cameras installed 12 metres away from athletes based on delicate changes caused by contraction of blood vessels. Heart rates are broadcasted on TV but not displayed in the arena as they could distract athletes,” said Dielen.

A field test of sorts was done in 2019, during the World Archery Championship in the Netherlands, when the developers of the ‘Contactless Vital Sensing’ were allowed to conduct tests and work with engineers on site to fine-tune the use of this technology.

Deepika Kumari of India in action at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (Reuters Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne)

Has it given insight into an athlete’s breathing during pressure situations?

Absolutely. South Korean archers continue to be some of the best in the world, but in the men’s individual event, most of them felt the pressure of the occasion.

The youngest archer at the Olympics, Kim Je-deok would average around 125 BPM in the first set against German archer Florian Unruh — a set where he shot three 10s consecutively. But an 8 in his first shot of the third set saw his heart rate rise to 140 and then continue to go to 160 when he scored two 8s in the fourth set. In the fifth set, his heart rate raced to 170, and then for his final shot, was at 163. The Gyeonbukil High School student, who was a medal favorite, lost that match.

The South Koreans have been using a similar apparatus developed by car manufacturing giants Hyundai, but rather than enhancing viewing experience, their version of the heartbeat monitor was used to correlate data from the body and the scores of the archer, to try to analyse how and why scores were high or low in certain situations.

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How have Indians done with their heartbeat count?

India’s Deepika Kumari had a very calm outing against Bhutan’s Karma, where she was clocking 75 beats per minute. But in her match against USA’s Mucino-Fernandes, her heartbeat was 100 in the first set and shot up to 175 at one point in the fifth as both archers battled it out for a place in the next round.

“Obviously, I’m nervous. The pressure at the Olympics is at a different level as you put in years of effort to win a medal here. It’s a battle with yourself and I’m trying to win against myself here,” Deepika told reporters in Tokyo.