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Apple Watch Fitness Tracking Is Good Enough for Olympic Athletes

Members of Australia's swim team, which won nine gold medals at last summer's Tokyo Olympics, say the data makes a difference.

WatchOS 9
The Apple Watch has provided an assist for elite athletes.
Lexy Savvides/CNET

Smartwatches can be stylish accessories, and new features are slowly transforming them into smartphones we carry on our wrists. But what they're really good at is cold, hard data. 

The millions of people who use them for everyday fitness tracking know this, but a three-mile jog isn't the half of it. The fitness tracking capabilities of Apple Watch are good enough that even elite athletes say they rely on it.

Australia's Olympic swimming team utilizes both Apple Watch and iPad to fine-tune their training, according to a profile Apple did on Swimming Australia. Australia's swimming team, the Dolphins, is among the best in the world. It won 21 medals in the 2020 Olympics, including nine golds. It came second only to the US. (And one of the Dolphin's coaches briefly went viral for his incredible celebrations.)

Apple Watch has supported swimmer tracking since 2016's Series 2. Updated models, like the most recent Series 7, can not only count laps and lap pace, but also auto-detect stroke types. The ability to track data is one thing, but being able to do it precisely enough for Olympic athletes is another.

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"Being able to accurately measure my heart rate in between sets has been a really valuable data point for me and my coach to understand how well I'm responding to training," Zac Stubblety-Cook, who won a gold medal in 200 meter breaststroke at the Tokyo Olympics, said in a statement via Apple.

"Data is the key ingredient when it comes to designing performance outcomes for athletes," said Swimming Australia performance solutions manager Jess Corones. "We have seen increased engagement from athletes wearing Apple Watch, which gives us more data points to inform analysis and make coaching decisions."

Apple isn't the only tech giant Swimming Australia has turned to in pursuit of optimizing the performance of its elite athletes. The Olympic team partnered with Amazon in 2019 to utilize machine learning. The collaboration saw Swimming Australia dump all of its data on its athletes -- and competitors -- into a data lake, which informed performance and training strategies for the 2020 Olympics.

The iPad was also lauded as a helpful tool for Swimming Australia's Olympians, though the Locker app the team uses to analyze race and training footage is only available for "nationally accredited swimming coaches and analysts."