Pádraig Harrington knows sports science is key to staying ahead of the curve
Three-time Major winner says work with Orreco allows him get the best from his body
Pádraig Harrington says he would usually be about 5-10 years ahead of the trend when it comes to new ideas. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
The sports scientist laughs at the joke against himself. As an aspiring athlete in his own right when studying in London, among those who pounded the streets alongside him were a group of Kenyans. Not just any Kenyans. He mentions the names. Moses Kiptanui. Daniel Komen.
“I realised if I was going to be running against these guys for my lunch, I was going to be a very hungry boy, so I needed to do something else,” says Dr Brian Moore.
That something else was to embark on an academic and scientific career that has seen the Galwayman take smooth strides on an ever-upward trajectory to the point where he is recognised globally as one of the foremost sports scientists. Gold medal standard, if you will: for the company he founded, Orreco - the name combines Óir (the Irish for gold) with that of recovery - has a client list that features leading basketball, baseball and soccer clubs as well as Formula 1 teams, athletes and professional golfers.
The company - with offices in Galway, London and Los Angeles - uses cutting-edge machine intelligence and advanced learning to help some of the world’s top athletes analyse their health and performance data to enhance performance, to accelerate their recovery and to prolong their careers. It is also behind the acclaimed FitrWoman app specifically aimed at women.
Moore’s own journey into the science of analysing bloods in contributing to sporting performance started as part of his undergraduate studies at Strawberry Hill in London.
“I was fascinated to see if the blood of an athlete is different to the blood of regular people and you could see changes with training, nutrition, recovery and sleep and the blood. And that’s what really captured my head and heart and imagination and fascination on the science side,” explains Moore, who would go on to do his PhD in Applied Physiology at Brunel University under the supervision of Professor Craig Sharp, acknowledged as the father of sports science.
In his time, Moore worked through two full cycles with British Olympic teams - through Athens to Beijing - and also with Sonia O’Sullivan in the run-up to her silver medal at the Sydney Games. Like in any profession, it was a case of networking that led him into the golfing life of Pádraig Harrington.
Harrington’s long-time fitness guru is Dr Liam Hennessy. “He’s one of the most experienced professionals, such an amazing critical thinker,” says Moore of Hennessy. The hook-up between Moore with Harrington and Hennessy came through Des Ryan, who is the head of Sports Medicine and Athletic Development at Arsenal. “Des connected us and I started talking to Liam and within 48 hours we had started working with Pádraig, he instantly got what we were talking about and the potential. That’s where it started.”
That was in 2006. Harrington would win the British Open at Carnoustie in 2007, retain it at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and also win a third career Major in the 2008 US PGA. In 2010, Moore - along with Dr Andy Hodgson - founded Orreco and, while clubs like the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA and Newcastle United in the Premier League feature among a global client list, Harrington and Graeme McDowell are among the professional golfers who are longtime advocates.
Of working with the two Major champions, one with an accountancy background and the other engineering, Moore observes: “Pádraig is so analytical and so game driven in his own way, the technical acumen he has in terms of everything, all the Trackman data and how he thinks about his game, this (tie-up) made sense because there is a real scientific evidence base behind it. And, working with Liam, together they were cross referencing the data we were sharing with them against all the other data they were collecting to make sure it made sense.
“They don’t just incorporate technology blindly, they were constantly doing their diligence on it to make sure what I was saying was holding up. We can identify early signs, up to a few days or a week before a player is starting to fatigue or get tired, and they were using that to guide the training.
“I think what is fascinating about that is that Pádraig’s clubface speed is faster than it has ever been in its life, which given his age profile is testament to the training which Liam has devised and how hard Pádraig works . . . Golf is a power game in this day and age and what we are trying to do is to help support the power profiles through the work he will do, anyone can work hard but it is about working hard at the right time.”
He continues: “Again, Graeme is very analytical. The data makes sense to him and he is a very intuitive player. A huge application for our work is that golfers have such heavy travel schedules and it is very easy to become fatigued. It is not just four hours on the course plus 90 minutes on the range before plus another hour in the evening, it is factoring in travel stress as well and traveling across multiple time zones, so that is one area that Graeme was really interested in and again asks phenomenal questions, he’s interested in how can we support the work he is doing to make sure he is ready go at any given day.
“It started off as a very manual process and we would literally painstakingly go through food diaries and data from the monitors and also travel itineraries but now with Artificial Intelligence we have built an engine that maps all this back to performance to help them to prolong their careers using data.”
Harrington, at 47 years of age, is, by his nature, a hard worker and admits to a “constant battle” between Hennessy and himself when it came to overtraining. “I got to where I did by doing more than everybody else. And that is great but you get to a certain age where more is not always better and I struggled with this, the need to just work through it. My head and body are telling me I am tired, I (used) just go and over-ride it, then with Orreco’s data and bloods it is giving me the feedback that is outside my hands, it is saying ‘hey, your bloods are saying you need to lay off here, you need to step back, your body needs it’, and it has been very accurate.”
Harrington first started working with Hennessy back in 1998, as a fledgling professional. At the time Hennessy was also working, analysing the bloods, for the IRFU and some of the country’s top athletes. “This is something that is close to Liam’s heart and Orreco have this down to a pin prick in your ear. My element of it is five seconds and you get the results within 20 minutes. It’s there in front of you, in black and white, actually it’s in colour,” says Harrington who has always been to the fore in using analysis.
“I am a big sceptic in my own life,” admits Harrington. “Actually, I’m a big sceptic from Liam Hennessy . . . if I read stuff, maybe see another athlete, whenever I hear there is something out there, I will bring it to Liam, he is the mad scientist at the end of the day. Liam is good at being able to peer review these things and tell you when they had been trialled, who trialled them, why they trialled them, how it worked. He basically asks the right question of everything new that’s coming out.
“Generally I would be about five to 10 years ahead of what you see. The trendy stuff? I’ve had it five to 10 years ago, tried it, maybe even debunked it. Probably debunked it. Vibration platform, I’ve had one of those things in my house since the 90s, way before they came in vogue. I’ve had a cryotherapy chamber in my house for 15 years . . . this is the sort of stuff you see coming out in the last five years, I’m always trying to stay ahead of the curve. And Orreco are way ahead. They’re for elite athletes for the moment and they have to figure out to roll that out for weekend warriors.”
At his age, Harrington expects to be competitive for another three to four years. He recounts how the great Ethiopian athlete Haile Gebrselassie ran his best later in life. “What’s fascinating is, he didn’t train formally (late in his career), he got up in the morning and kind of went, ‘yes I think I will do it today’, other days go, ‘no I am not ready’. He could read his body. Whether this is true or not doesn’t make any difference, it is the idea that as you get older you have to listen to the signals your body is giving off. I struggle with that, this is why Orreco is ideal for me. They give you the results, give you the information, what you need to do, make sure you’re eating properly, sleep properly, don’t extend yourself.”
These are changed times for everyone, and professional athletes too have had to adapt; and Harrington - who has taken to providing golf tips on his social media platform during recent weeks - is aware, more than anybody, of the need to stay fit and healthy.
“I just did a whole conference call, which went through what is best for athletes at the moment. Which is, athletes would be in danger of overextending themselves, pushing themselves because they have the time to do it. Obviously you want to keep your immune system strong at the moment, so you don’t want to overdo it. You wouldn’t do anything at max that stresses your immune system. You want your immune system strong, so the only thing you want athletes to do is light training, maintenance, get your Vitamin D in, get your flavonoids in, get better rest, de-stress, sleep, meditation.”
The science of sport in a nutshell.