Case study: Rowing 2016

Our Performance Physiologist Caroline MacManus provided extensive sport science support to the National Rowing squad in preparation for the Olympic Games and World Championships. It was the most successful Olympic Games for Rowing Ireland, with Gary and Paul O'Donovan winning an Olympic silver medal in the men's lightweight double and the duo of Claire Lambe and Sinead Jennings reaching the A final in the women's lightweight double. Sanita Puspure competed in the women's single at her second Olympics.

Sport Science support involved lab based testing which facilitated monitoring, progression of fitness, and performance gains. In addition, it provides information to set individualised training zones which are further monitored out on the water or on the rowing ergometer. In conjunction with medical and nutritional support - blood profiling was carried out at regular intervals to monitor gains from training phases and ensure all health and endurance associated markers were optimal. 

Daily monitoring was carried out which involved the sessional Rate of Perceived Exertion and daily wellness parameters. In association with daily monitoring, hormonal and immune function markers were measured once or twice per week. This allowed us to inform the coach and athletes if the athletes may have been struggling with the current training levels and if measures needed to be put in place to ensure adequate recovery and avoidance of illness/injury. The ultimate goal of all this monitoring is to ensure the athletes lose minimal time to illness and injury and to promote peak performance.

Training camp support was provided in the run up to the Olympics in the training camp in Banyoles, Spain. The camp was split with an Athletics Ireland athlete, Fionnuala McCormack who was training in Font Romeu at altitude in preparation for her marathon performance in Rio. Caroline travelled between the two locations every few days providing support to the two camps.The rowers were exposing themselves to a hot environment in order to acclimatise to the hot conditions expected in Rio. Specific warm up protocols had been defined from data from recent lab test, then trialled at previous events and refined at training camp. Travel and heat strategies were developed in preparation for the long trip and subsequent recovery from jet lag and travel fatigue. This was carried out in conjunction with nutritional support. Pre-cooling and recovery strategies were put in place so they were fully prepared on what to do in the lead up and in recovery from each race.

Finally, Paul O'Donovan performed at the World Championships, in the men's lightweight single, within a couple of weeks of the Olympic Games medal winning performance. He went on to win the event which was unprecedented. Along with him Mark O'Donovan and Shane O'Driscoll finished 4th in the men's lightweight pair. The aim was to maintain optimum conditioning to ensure no loss in performance. So, strategies were put in place to recover again from the travel and jet-lag along with maintaining fitness levels. Pre-cooling and recovery strategies remained similar to what was performed in Rio.

Performance Physiologist Caroline MacManus

CASE Study: Mark ROHAN

M Rohan


Teams of specialised service providers are at the heart of the Institute’s performance-focused services. These teams aim to maximise the athlete’s performance potential by optimising preparation both physical and psychological, monitoring training load and rapid diagnosis and management of injury or illness. These teams works in conjunction with the athletes and sports performance team (coaches, performance directors and managers). The service providers work in an interdisciplinary manner ensuring close coordination between all parties in the management of any case.

Preparing for the London Paralympic Games was the focus for double World Champion Hand-cyclist Mark Rohan and his coach Brian Nugent. Mark’s gold medal success in London was the culmination of more than three years of support to Mark and Brian by a multi-disciplinary team of service providers, focused on providing individualised support tailored to Mark’s specific needs.

        Coach | Brian Nugent

        Physiology | Toni Rossiter

        Nutrition | Sharon Madigan

        Lifestyle management | Darragh Sheridan

        Physiotherapy | Fintan O’Donnell, Jon Faulkner, Sinead Murphy

        Performance Analysis | Alan Swanton

        Medical | Dr Joe Conway ,Dr Eimear Smyth (CRC).

In the two years leading up to the London Games Mark was working hard to maximise weight loss while optimising his performance. This involved regular consultation with the nutritionist Sharon Madigan to fine-tune his nutritional plan. Mark also worked with Daragh Sheridan to balance his work and lifestyle needs. Due to Mark’s spinal injury his heart rate was not a completely accurate system of monitoring his recovery and physiological state. Under the guidance of Dr. Joe Conway and Dr. Eimear Smith blood test profile parameters were measured, health reporting was routinely carried out and a variety of use tools such as the smartphone app Restwise. Mark also had an experience team of physiotherapists around him, including Fintan O’Donnell, Jon Faulkner and Sinead Murphy who helped him with his injury rehabilitation and provided him with guidance on injury prevention strategies.

Once Mark addressed lifestyle issues, missed training days were reduced dramatically. However he was still susceptible to illness and this appeared to be more frequent during periods of high training load. To address this issue, an online system where Mark inputted information regarding his well-being and training daily was developed. This was a crucial step as it allowed for the remote monitoring of Mark by the physiologist Toni Rossiter. She could then report back to Brian if she noticed any worrying trends. This allowed Toni to present greater objective feedback on recovery, thus helping to prevent fatigue and illness. 

Toni also monitored Mark’s physiological response to many key training sessions. This along with physiological testing in the lab, provided crucial information to Brian regarding Mark’s progress. It was also important in educating Mark on the importance of training quality and helped him gain a better understanding of the importance of adhering to prescribed training. According to Mark;

“Without these tests and the feedback from Toni I would have stuck to the old fashioned approach to flogging myself every time I trained, resulting in a catch 22 situation in my case, train-fatigue-train-fatigue- burn out and injury”.

Alan Swanton also provided support to Mark and Brian, specifically around the survey of the time trial and road race course in Brands Hatch which took place 11 weeks before Mark’s first event. This involved overlaying power meter data and video footage of Mark on the course. The survey delivered a clear profile of the course as follows:

        8km course was broken into parts (defined by the coach) and average power, cadences, speed on specific parts of the course were identified

        Max power, cadence and speed could also be identified at specific sections of the course

        Footage was used during specific monitoring sessions which replicated the time trial course

Information was given to Mark, Brian and physiologist Toni so that so that course specific sessions could be created and monitored to ensure that training was as specific as possible. This allowed a more comprehensive development of race tactics, building Marks’ confidence that preparation was tailored to the course.

The support given by the team was very much question-led by the Brian. This allowed the support team to work together to identify novel ways of tailoring support specific to Mark’s needs. I really believe that this could not have been done without the significant prior relationship with Brian and Mark that has been built up over the last three years.

Alan Swanton, Performance Analyst.


Billy Wash, Manager of the highly successful Irish Boxing Team reflects on the 30 day countdown to the London Games and outlines his initiative to run a support event for the families of the Olympic boxers prior to, and following the Olympic Games. The High Performance Boxing Support Team is the linchpin that drives the team forward.

How it works

It begins every year with the service goals and activities planned and negotiated with the Irish Sports Council and the Institute of Sport. Then each month we have multi-disciplinary team meetings, lead by the high performance coaches. From these meetings support team projects are identified where 2/3 disciplines work in close collaboration to drive the support services forward. Throughout this process we rely on honest, open and self critical feedback to help us reflect on what we are doing, and ensure that we are doing it right. Our team works because of the depth of expertise and experience we have but also because we are passionate, professional and committed to making the HP Boxing Team one of the best in the World. 

The Origin of the Support Rationale

Just over two months out from the Games we held a Team meeting where a number of Critical Performance Factors were identified. The first was the level of public interest and media interest in the boxers coming up to the Games. The second and most consistent concern for the boxers was the management of weight issues. Finally the amount of time the boxers were going to be a home, prior to Games, was going to be a lot different to other Games held previously. The support team responded by planning a Family Support event to be held one month prior to the start of the Games, and also organising a final preparation camp, out of Ireland, just before the team would join in the rest of team Ireland in the holding camp.

The Family Support Event

The rationale for the event centred around two main areas, based on the mantra ‘Everything has the ability to affect performance’. We wanted to run the event to show that we are an interconnected family, with shared and common interest – ‘no man is an island’. 8 of the 27 days prior to London would be spent at home, so we needed to optimise that preparation opportunity.

    The Home Environment 30% of remaining preparation time

    The Performance Expectation A shared support approach

The boxers, their parents and their partners attended the day which discussed topics on the pre-Games preparation of the boxers such as how to manage media queries, how to fuel a boxer at home, how to deal with expectations before the games, how to support an athlete through injury as well as issues around anti-doping and out of competition testing. Advice was also given on how to support the boxers during the Games, such as how to cope with an unexpected performance (good or bad), how to relate to an athlete who was still in competition mode and how to help the boxers manage distractions.

Finally the last session focused on the post-Games period and centered on how to support the boxers as they come down from the Games experience.

    The key take home messages from the day were

    “Control the Controllables”

    K.I.S.S. – Stick to the Plan

    Enjoyment – Release your best

Each family member was also given a resource pack containing key contact numbers, the Olympic Games Site map, competition schedules and a copy of all the days’ presentations. The event was extremely well received by the boxers and their families

"I am happy that everyone now has an idea of what our process will be, what our thoughts will be and what our aims are. I feel that I am clearer emotionally and personally in terms of what lies ahead. I feel more prepared". Olympic Boxer

"I ended the day a lot more relaxed and relieved and now excited. A lot of questions were answered even some that I had not thought of…I was also delighted to see that there is life after boxing with the career and education support". Parent of Olympic Boxer

Key Reflections

For Billy, the key reflections from this event were:

    Leadership – the importance of trusting people in allowing clear delegation to take place.

•   Importance of communication – listening and observing the performance environment.

    Support – whole person approach – inter linkage with family support hub.

    Context – ‘transition’ is a constant - pre and post Games change – timing, type and mapping of support expertise to the context is critical.

    Collaboration – sum total of everyone’s contribution is greater that one individual’s contribution alone.

Our team works because of the depth of expertise and experience we have but also because we are passionate, professional and committed to making the HP Boxing Team one of the best in the World.


The Pursuit of Excellence Programme has developed a close collaboration with the An Garda Siochana Training College in Templemore over the past two years which has facilitated a new approach to high performance coach development in Ireland. The collaboration that has taken place has allowed for two innovative workshops to take place in the past two years which have received exceptional feedback.

In addition to being able to provide highly experienced trainers in areas such as team dynamics, leadership, problem solving, conflict management and practical activities such as simulators for fire arms the programme has benefitted hugely from the experienced trainers the centre has. New recruits to the Gardai are trained using a problem solving approach which PEP has built on in delivering cutting edge workshops.

The unique facilities in Templemore allow for coaching based scenarios to be acted out by  experienced educators whilst being recorded live. PEP coaches work in groups and each participant can observe the rest of the group and their own scenario enactment before going into carefully facilitated feedback sessions where the coaches evaluate their own performance against carefully developed problem solving models.

This has enabled some very realistic, yet potentially destructive situations to be played out which has proved the most powerful and effective development tool employed on the scheme. Once the coaches have self reflected, had peer feedback and external evaluation from the Garda trainers they also then receive DVD copies of both the scenarios they were involved in and the feedback session. This is done to facilitate further reflection and capturing of the learning tool.

The feedback on the workshop run in Templemore in 2012 received a universally positive rating. Dr. Julie Norris is an expert in the Problem Based Learning Approach (PBL) and has worked closely with the programme to help initiate the development of a competency model along with supporting development of the scenarios and problem based learning approach. Julie paid tribute to the approach undertaken.

The innovative approach taken by PEP has put it on a strategic and integrative footing because it is implementing across the different competency strands that are emerging as key in high performance coaching. To integrate these individual strands allows each coach to work on developing their individual needs against their own competency profile. It is very clear that you can already see and hear the impact that the approach is having based on the feedback from the sessions we have hosted”.

Given the feedback generated from all sources, the PEP programme will work hard to build on the relationship with the Garda College in developing high performance athletes in the future.

Additional Programmes

    Building a Service Provider Community

The Institute held its first event for the service provider community who were involved with the preparation of Olympic and Paralympic athletes. 27 sports science and medical service providers attended a post-Games debrief in November designed to help them unpack and refocus after their Games experience.

    Professional Quality Assurance Programme and Trainee Scheme

This Institute continues to run its Professional Quality Assurance Programme which now accredited over 60 service providers, along with a trainee scheme which saw 7 trainees receive mentoring from 6 experiences and accredited service providers.


Two applied research projects were carried out in the areas of sports psychology and nutrition supplementation.