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Olympic Champion Natalie Coughlin joins Swimming Analytics startup

by ZwemZa on February 24th, 2018
Olympian Natalie Coughlin (AFP / Getty Images)

Olympian Natalie Coughlin (AFP / Getty Images)

Natalie Coughlin retired from swimming with 12 Olympic medals, as many as an American woman has ever earned, even though at 5’8” she was often dwarfed on the pool deck, especially in her short events when facing 6’1” competitors was not uncommon.

“I would have killed to have that extra five inches, being a sprinter,” Coughlin said. “Because of my smaller stature, I had to learn how to be a technically better swimmer than a lot of my competitors.”

Swimmers’ varying body types makes uniformity of technique impractical, and this understanding is the underpinning of Aspiricx.

That first product, LaneVision, is scheduled for an early release and can generate such metrics as lap splits, average stroke rate, average distance per stroke cycle, underwater velocity, breakout distance and more. Combined with a web portal hosted at — the premise is “to create a model for your ideal swimming stroke,” Coughlin said — LaneVision will use artificial intelligence to suggest biomechanical analysis.

The second launch, StrokeVision, will be available in beta in August and require advanced camera equipment for a 3D scan and offer more extensive input about stroke improvements.

Natalie Coughlin (Courtesy of Aspiricx)

“Everyone’s body, everyone’s body type is completely different so the swimming stroke that works for me may not work for the next person. What we’re going to do is figure out a way to really personalize swimming strokes,” Coughlin said, adding: “If you don’t have a coach, it can be very intimidating, so what we’re hoping to develop is something that, you could come to us and we could help you visualize your ideal version of your swimming.”

The technology behind Aspiricx is the brainchild of Kannan Dorairaj, a successful entrepreneur with experience in AI, IoT, data and the solar industry — and, most pertinently, the father of a swimming-loving 11-year-old son, Amit.

When Amit began swimming, Dorairaj wanted to learn the sport, too. He trained to be come a stroke and turn judge, sitting for endless hours at the end of a pool lane in meets. When Dorairaj exited his startup, infiswift, last summer — he had been founder and CEO and remains on the board of directors — he wanted to undertake a project with his son.

“After so many years of working, I had time,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘What can I teach my son?’”

As an entrepreneur, Dorairaj decided to show his son the basics of a business plan. For the purpose of the exercise, Amit decided to create a swim team. Around that time, Dorairaj recalled that he and his son had an argument about swimming in which Amit asked his father, “Don’t compare me to anybody.” This helped spark an idea.

Dorairaj came to understand the individuality of swimming strokes, pored through documents of other swim-specific technologies and saw an opportunity for an external tracker. He applied his expertise to create Aspiricx and the concept of Amit’s swim coach, as it happened, is a former college swimming star who competed in a couple Olympic trials named Ethan Hall, whose wife is Coughlin. Hall now also works for the company, and USA Swimming national team high performance manager Russell Mark sits on the board of advisers. The company has grown to five employees and 12 engineering contractors.

The primary challenge of this startup is setting up the computer vision to work through the water. Dorairaj said his prior work in the solar industry helped him understand light rays, and his solution for the problem posed by water is now Aspiricx’s core intellectual property.

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Coughlin said, in her career, the raw analytics USA Swimming provided were either counted manually from video or derived from a complicated setup at the Colorado Springs headquarters — options that were either labor-intensive or intrusive. Her role now is help discern what information would be most pertinent and making sure the user experience is clean.

“My input has been the creative side, just asking myself, ‘What would a 12-year-old swimmer want? What would a 25-year-old swimmer want? What would a 45-year-old swimmer want?’” Coughlin said. “And just really apply my knowledge of the day-to-day, nitty-gritty of what it takes to be a great swimmer, what tools I would want in my tool bag. That’s part of it. The other part is going through the different version of the app that comes out every day — playing with it, seeing how the UX could be better, seeing how the design could be better, things like that.”

A Bay Area native who graduated from Cal-Berkeley, Coughlin has always been tech-interested, and her sister and friends have worked in startups. This, she admits, is her “first real job.” (She appeared on Dancing with the Stars in 2009 and has started a winery, Gaderian Wines, with a friend, Shaina Harding.) In an industry with job postings that routinely seek a digital overlord, technical evangelist, growth hacker and developer ninja, the description of her own role is similarly creative.

“My title, officially, is the chief aspirer,” she said. “That’s a very Silicon Valley-type title. The reason we have that title is you want to aspire to be better, and that’s kind of the whole vision of this company is to help you aspire to be better than you are today.”

Natalie Coughlin (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Joe Lemire | Sport Techie

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