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UC Professor Kevin Thompson preparing for one of the most significant roles in Australian sport

26 June 2019

Kevin Thompson visualised over the years what it would be like to have a significant role at the Olympic Games.

As the current CEO of the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS), Kevin has played a major role in getting a number of athletes to the point where they will be part of the Australian Olympic team next year – indeed he anticipates 25–30 per cent of the team will be NSWIS supported athletes.

Now, with his appointment as the Head of Performance Services with the Australian team at the Games, he will have responsibility for overseeing the delivery of headquarter sports science services to the team while they are under the banner of the Australian Olympic Committee in Tokyo.

As the Head of Performance Services, his responsibilities encompass athlete recovery, nutrition, strength and conditioning, performance analysis and psychology. Kevin says, “Along with the other headquarters’ staff, we will put a ‘light touch’ on the athletes. The individual sports have prepared the athletes for this moment and will bring their own coaches and support staff, so we don’t want to interfere with their preparation. The role of the HQ staff is to support and enable the individual sport’s preparations where it is needed.”

For 52-year-old Kevin, after being involved with the British team at various World and European Championships, as well as two Commonwealth Games with England and Wales, the Olympics are the ultimate; “It’s one of those bucket-list things to be involved in. It is the pinnacle for me.”

And it has taken years of hard word work to reach this pinnacle. It’s a role that enables Kevin to practically apply his skills as a sports scientist.

Having worked for more than seven years at the England Institute of Sport as a Sports Institute Director and then National Director of Sports Sciences, six years at the Welsh Institute of Sport and 13 years at universities in the UK and Australia, Professor Thompson has a wealth of experience behind him. He has published over 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles relating to the field of sports science, thus backing his practical experience with considerable theoretical understanding.

Professor Thompson was the Inaugural Director of the University of Canberra’s Research Institute for Sport and Exercise (UC RISE), although he is currently on a leave of absence from UC while fulfilling the CEO role at NSWIS.

And running NSWIS has its challenges. There are high expectations, with the Institute housing 16 sport programs, 560 elite athletes, 110 staff, and 10 high performance centres across Sydney and New South Wales. This is the biggest state-based sports institute in Australia.

Professor Thompson sees the benefit of having worked in both sport and academia; “It’s very important to have a technical understanding when setting up sports science, medicine and technology services for sports or when using science and technology to inform coaching and training practices. Having an academic career as well as a high-performance sport career has enabled that,” he said.

“International sport is becoming increasingly sophisticated and so having a technical understanding is very worthwhile, especially when you have to understand how to apply performance services in the daily training environment or in a competition environment where you are seeking marginal performance gains.”

Tokyo 2020 will bring all of that understanding to the fore. With a forecast of very hot and humid conditions, and competition early in the morning and late at night, a scientifically-based preparation will be vital for all athletes competing.

In some cases, athletes will spend considerable time travelling to training and competition, requiring them to consider their eating, drinking, sleeping and relaxation strategies while travelling to and from the village.

Professor Thompson and the Performance Services team are also working on setting up a purpose-built gym, recovery areas (ice baths) and a food service for Australian competitors in the Australian HQ within the Olympic Games Athlete’s Village.

Athletes will be out of their comfort zone. For Kevin Thompson, his role will be to ensure athletes perform at their optimum in a challenging environment.

It’s a task that he is well qualified to take on, with skills fine-tuned through years of working in sport, sports science and academia.