Engineering excellence

The University of Southampton’s Performance Sports Engineering Laboratory (PSEL) is a team of academics and research engineers, from across a range of engineering disciplines, actively engaged in research, teaching and enterprise.

PSEL engineers have had a close working relationship with UK Sport since early 2005 and collectively, have worked to support the performance of the athletes that won 16 of the 20 gold medals won by Great Britain in the Beijing and Vancouver Olympics. In recognition of its four decades of innovation in design and testing, and technical expertise, The University of Southampton has been awarded a prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its innovation and world-leading expertise in performance sports engineering.

This partnership with UK Sport has been focused on sports involving high speed where there are potential gains in the aerodynamic and hydrodynamic characteristics of the athletes and their equipment. Initially, much of this work concentrated on cycling, where results have been dramatic. After placing third in the medals table at the Athens Olympic cycling events in 2004, Great Britain progressed over the next five years to come top of the medals tally for three out of six UCI Track Cycling World Championships, and in 2008 to lead the Beijing Olympic cycling medals table by an impressive margin, notably with Sir Chris Hoy’s three gold medals.

Other Olympic sports to have benefited from PSEL expertise include kayaking, rowing and sailing. Winter sports have also been highly successfully supported by the PSEL, in particular snowboarding and skeleton bob. The development of the skeleton bob used so successfully by Amy Williams to win gold in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, is an example of a project run principally by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded Doctoral students at the University

The work of the PSEL engineers has made an outstanding contribution to the development of sports equipment and technology and in assisting top sportsmen and women achieve sporting excellence. The benefits of sporting success are shared by the wide range of supporters from across all communities. Helping British athletes to achieve gold medal success has a positive impact both at home and abroad.

University of Southampton expertise has been invaluable in developing effective test methods and equipment, with many innovations required to quantify the potential gains that can be achieved in performance sports. In their work with international sports teams, the PSEL engineers help athletes with their posture, a highly important factor in speed sports, subjecting them to wind tunnel testing with their clothing and equipment, and teaching them how to optimise their own aerodynamics in conjunction with their kit.

The PSEL is currently focusing on developments supporting UK Sport in the run-up to London 2012. The range of sports with which PSEL are engaged has increased and again the focus is on those sports where UK competitors stand a realistic chance of medals. Three PhD students are jointly funded by UK Sport and the University. To date their main role has been in the development of new elite athlete coaching tools, with 30 elite competitors having already interacted directly with the students.