Full steam ahead for Hall's Paralympic campaign

16:00, Mar 03 2014
Adam Hall
GOOD TO GO: Adam Hall.

Defending standing slalom champion Adam Hall hopes the appliance of cutting edge science can help propel him to back-to-back Paralympic gold medals at the Sochi Games which begin on Friday.

Four years ago, at the Vancouver Paralympics, the then 22-year-old survived a mid-race fall in his second run to dramatically strike gold in the standing slalom event.

At that time, the man who was raised on the family's dairy farm at Outram, on the Taieri Plains, lauded his success as a victory based chiefly on perspiration.

This time around should he mount a successful defence of his title he hopes a large dollop of scientific inspiration will have proved decisive.

"I believe Vancouver was achieved on hard work and a good Kiwi attitude," explains Hall of his 2010 triumph.

"Yet after Vancouver we looked at my body and discussed what we needed to do to be able to continue for another four years. The training hasn't changed too much, just the way we have gone about it. We still work hard but we are a lot smarter in our thinking."

In short, the South Islander has taken on board another Kiwi trait familiar to many - ingenuity.

Working with a large support team, Hall has left no stone unturned in his quest for gold.

Video analysis, strength and conditioning, nutrition, biomechanics and a range of others areas have been closely scrutinised in an effort to trim those extra hundredths of a seconds so critical on the mountain.

"The great thing about adaptive sport is everyone is completely different," explains Hall, 26, who was born with spina bifida.

"Everyone has their own equipment to suit their ability. That's what adaptive sport is all about. It is about being adaptive to your needs.

"We decided after Vancouver to go back to the drawing board, look at my body and decide what I specifically needed to go faster."

The whole process was methodically worked through with the first step a detailed physical evaluation of Hall's body with the help of Vanessa Trent of Precision Physiotherapy - an accredited provider for High Performance Sport NZ.

She assessed the Otago athlete's strength and overall fitness with another brief to ensuring that Hall's body would not be irreparably worn out by the demands of training.

With the detailed physical analysis of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic gold medallist now in place the next issue was to address the question of equipment and technique married with the individual make up of Hall's body.

One area ripe for development was the outriggers or "elbow crutches" which provide assistance with balance and propulsion out of the gate - which had barely changed in terms of their design and construction for the past 30 years.

Another area which demanded attention was his AFO's (ankle foot orthoses) which had historically been designed to act as a support to the disability rather than allowing him to be in the optimum position to perform to his best.

Using Orthotics SI - the Christchurch-based company experienced in manufacturing AFO's (ankle foot orthoses) - a mark 1 version was designed.

However, the normal casting process for a new AFO required Hall to be on site for each individual mould - not easy when trying to modify many times and with Hall's training needs requiring him to share his time between Wanaka and Winter Park, Colorado.

To overcome the problem Hall's leg was digitally scanned in 3D and a new 3D model was developed which could be used to design new supports.

The cutting edge Christchurch firm ARANZ Medical Ltd - whose 3D scanning expertise helped NASA explore Mars - were brought on board.

Using the finest technology available a "virtualHall" was created to help predict biomechanical alignment of his lower limbs.

From this the splints and orthoses to support the ideal position for his legs was created. Dynamic Composites then created a replica set for Hall's legs as moulds.

"The AFO'S are a lot lighter than what I skied with before," said Hall. "They now work in a way at the same angles of how my knees, ankles and hips flex, whereas before they worked against my body."

Meanwhile, a new set of state-of-the-art outriggers were designed by Milton Bloomfield at Dynamic Composites - a man who had previously worked with America's Cup team and Sarah Ulmer the 2004 Olympic individual pursuit cycling champion.

Bloomfield and his team designed a pair of jet black carbon fibre outriggers. Although much of the science behind the outriggers is of a sensitive nature - Hall is excited by the innovation.

"My outriggers are a lot different to the traditional," explains Adam, who will be skiing with the third upgraded design from Dynamic Composites in Sochi.

"They are more dynamic and lighter and work against my shoulder. Let's just say the technology has allowed me to work more productively on snow. The equipment now works for me rather than against me."

However, Hall's drive and ambition to defend his title in Sochi has extended way beyond his equipment and technological changes.

Shifting from northern to southern hemisphere winter - this is currently Hall's 20th - his training under the supervision of US coach Scott Olson has also undergone an overhaul.

He has adopted a more measured, targeted approach to training, which he hopes will pay dividends in Sochi - where he will be part of a three-strong New Zealand team which also includes sit-skiier Corey Peters and snowboarder Carl Murphy.

"I now put in some really good blocks of training and then I will back off, rather than grinding away all the time," he explains.

"It is about good periodisation and quality over quantity and getting as much out of your training as you can.

"When I look back at Vancouver I was probably grinding away all of the time, whereas as I've now become more focused on tactics and techniques. This has helped me perform to a higher level."

His nutrition - working alongside HPSNZ nutritionist Caz Cruden - has also undergone a revolution.

He has shed 10kg thanks to a combination of a well executed nutritional plan, good discipline and work in the gym and believes his current weight of 75kg is ideal to maximise speed without losing power on the slopes.


Fairfax Media