Story by Evan Arnold-Gordon
Photo by Kaila Sankaran
The Bowerman Sports Science Clinic held a recent open house at their facility in Eugene, showcasing the clinic’s expertise in human physiology and athletic training. Located practically inside of Hayward Field, the Bowerman Clinic works mostly with University of Oregon athletes (in particular track and field), but offers the same services to the general public and students. “This clinic is a unique lab center,” says clinic director Michael Hahn, “It’s not too often you have clinicians working on biomechanics as well as biological research; it’s more of a skills clinic.”
The first floor of the clinic is home to the biomechanics room, which holds various equipment used to measure and evaluate an athlete’s movement. The clinic uses a 20-foot runway equipped with force-measurement plates to measure an athlete’s movement while walking, this allows the clinic’s staff to diagnose imbalances and other potential issues. Light-detecting nodules (similar to CGI technology used for special effects) can also be attached to athletes, allowing the clinic’s staff to further evaluate their movement patterns. Two treadmills are also used for analyses of hip, knee, and ankle joints while athletes run; the staff can even create customized speeds and gradients for either leg, depending on the athlete’s needs. The clinic can also evaluate the strength of different leg muscles, allowing the athlete to identify possible weaknesses for strengthening.
Breathing masks are another tool used at the clinic, they are worn by athletes as they either ride an exercise bike or run on a treadmill; the data collected is then used as part of a physiological assessment. Computers attached to the masks calculate the athlete’s RER, or Respiratory Exchange Ratio. This ratio quantifies the amount of oxygen an athlete inhales compared to how much carbon dioxide they exhale, a vital statistic for endurance athletes. Another device is able to calculate an athlete’s lactate threshold with a simple prick of the finger; allowing the clinic’s staff to interpret how well the body is buffering lactate out of the blood. This is essential for track and field runners, as it allows them to run more efficiently over long distances. During a recent training session at Hayward Field, Oregon Track Club runners Tyler Mulder and Hassan Mead (both run in OTC’s ‘Elite’ division) alternated running laps for time, every two laps or so getting their fingers pricked for a lactate threshold test. Both Olympic hopefuls, this type of data may just be the edge that gets them on Team USA, and perhaps the Olympic podium.
Mark Rowland has been head coach of the Oregon Track Club for over five years, and he knows what it takes to be an Olympian. After winning a bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Mark still holds the UK record for the Men’s 3000m Steeplechase. Now the head coach of a club with numerous Olympic hopefuls, Rowland is more than pleased with the close relationship with OTC and the Bowerman Clinic. Rowland says of the relationship, “The collaboration between the trainers and physiologists is great. We’re really stretching the boundaries here, the physiological boundaries.” Rowland’s role has gradually increased over the years, and among his goals now are trying to take athletes like Mulder and Mead to the next level. With the innovative facilities and world class coaching in Eugene, it’s no wonder athletes are still flocking to Tracktown USA to be on the cutting-edge of American track and field.
Though the clinic does provide services for those looking to supplement their Olympic training sessions, the same services are available to those who aren’t in training for Rio 2016. “Students can learn their general health profile,” says clinic director Michael Hahn.“This can lead to weight loss and a steady exercise program. Students, as well as faculty can also come here to get state of the art assessments.” The Bowerman clinic focuses on injury treatment and performance enhancement, which essentially go hand in hand. Hahn believes the clinic has a bright future, “I hope our clinic can help integrate the science program more fluidly with university athletic programs, and not just football. I also hope we can work on prosthetic ingenuities; as in not just the Olympic trials here in Eugene, but also the Paralympics, and assist them in athletic needs.”