Training mind as well as body helped Alexandre Bilodeau capture moguls gold

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VANCOUVER - Alexandre Bilodeau trained his mind as well as his body to win Canada's first Olympic gold medal on home turf.
The native of Rosemere, Que., who won the men's moguls crown at the Vancouver Winter Games on Sunday, spent 40 hours in a Montreal lab with sensors hooked up to his head and body in an effort to get both parts working together.
Dr. Penny Werthner, the team's psychiatrist, monitored the responses of his body and mind to various stresses and stimuli. She saw how he reacted and helped him find ways to change those reactions if they were harmful to his performance.
The process is called bioneurofeedback, which Werthner administered to Canada's moguls and aerials teams over the course of several months to prepare for the Games.
"Biofeedback, simplified, is learning yourself," Bilodeau says. "How you can put yourself into a state where you can perform the max."
Bioneurofeedback was one of about 55 projects under the banner of Top Secret, which was the science and technology component of Own The Podium. OTP, the $117-million, five-year plan designed to help Canada win the most medals at the Olympics, spent about $8 million on Top Secret.
Bilodeau learned that he carried tension in his shoulders that affected his performance. It was his brain creating tension so, change the brain, lose the tension. He learned breathing techniques, but since every athlete is different, he had to learn breathing techniques specific to him.
"Breathing through my shoulders, breathing through my legs and breathing through my mind, it helps you to let it go and bring your focus into the present moment," he said. "The hardest thing for an athlete in any sport is to stay in the right now."
Focus is a word used a lot in sports, but athletes often don't know what it is, says Werthner.
"They think they get it, but they don't understand the important part that physiology plays in this and how focus relies on physical calmness," she said.
"What screws up every Olympic performance, I think, is over-anxiety and trying to do too much and try to hard. This is the tool that's helped them understand that."
Bioneurofeedback taught Bilodeau how to relax between runs. He uses a specific type of recovery breathing about five minutes before his performances. Then, he flips the mental switch into performance-mode for the next 25 to 30 seconds down the hill.
"Focus takes a lot of energy," Werthner says. "It's a very difficult balance to be very intense, committed to do well, and yet have this calmness of 'I can do this.' That's an incredibly hard combination to get. It's not easy to win an Olympic medal and Alex was brilliant.
"I found this tool really useful - it's not some miracle thing by any means - but a useful way to help athletes become much more self-aware, but most important to train to change."

Organizations: Own The Podium

Geographic location: Canada, VANCOUVER, Rosemere Montreal

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  • m.n.viswanath
    February 25, 2014 - 12:23

    Congratulations for the achievement to both Alexandre Bilodeau and Dr penny Westerner. It's amazing how bio-neuro feedback is helping athletes these days. Kindly continue to publicize such deeds to let the sporting world to understand the usefulness of mind skill training.