INS Quebec | A pillar of sports science is stepping down (or almost)

After a five-year term, Guy Thibault, a world-renowned exercise physiologist, is retiring as Director of Science at the Institut national du sport du Québec.

Posted at 8:00 a.m.

For decades, Guy Thibault was the head researcher of the Sports, Leisure and Physical Activity Department of the Ministry of Education. The readers of Bike Mag have long followed his advice. Kinesiology students always refer to his book Cardio training: endurance sports and performance.

Upon his retirement from the Ministry in 2016, Thibault was continuing to write a second edition of his bestseller published in 2009 when the Institut national du sport (INS) du Québec contacted him. The vice president at the time was looking for a new director of sports science. After being part of the selection committee, the world-renowned exercise physiologist realized that he was the candidate sought.

“My intention was never to work again,” he says. I said no for a month. My spouse said to me: “Try it, you might like it.” I started part time. Eventually, I liked it so much that it became full-time. I spent five wonderful years here. »

At 65, Thibault feels it is now time to “pass the baton” to François Bieuzen, another exercise physiologist who will succeed him as director of sports science at the INS.

For his last week of work, Thibault received praise from his colleagues as part of a small party on Monday.

Today, people say to me: “You have achieved a lot in five years.” Well no ! I am a former cyclist. I did like the cyclist who stood in the peloton and took advantage of the work of others! All I did was give some kind of directions. I have made myself the watchdog of these orientations. Result: we created, created and created.

Guy Thibault

Doctor in exercise physiology from the University of Montreal (1976), he is particularly proud of the influx given to the INS in research and innovation, two aspects practically non-existent when he arrived at the premises of the Parc swimming pool. Olympic. Today, the provincial institution is a leader and a hub in the field.

“By definition, an institute is there to support Canadian teams based on the money they collect from Own the Podium. We are service providers for the teams. But real top sports scientists know full well that you can’t just give scientific advice on a day-to-day basis and take action to help. You also have to do research and innovation. »

Under his direction, 80 research projects have been carried out or are in the process of being carried out thanks to funds totaling nearly $4 million. About half of this amount comes from the Quebec government, which has invested in the new Research, Innovation and Information Dissemination Program (PRIDI).

The fields are multiple: artificial intelligence, virtual or augmented reality, concussions, data science, neuroscience, overhydration to make the weight, quantification of the load in the trampoline, etc.

The Mozarts

To achieve this, 45 sports scientists, in-house or at universities, are used. Thibault is enthusiastic when he talks about the specialists he has surrounded himself with and whom he calls his “Mozarts”: Amélie Soulard (mental performance), Alain Delorme (physical preparation), Bieuzen, David Jeker (physiology), Thomas Romeas (neuroscience) and co.

“One of the principles that I invoked here when I got home was: stop talking to me about the needs of sports, explains Thibault. You have to go beyond what is needed. What will really help a Canadian team through science is not based on its needs, it is based on what we know as resources. You have to combine the two. Because sports may be unaware of the existence of what will truly help them. »

The physiologist cites an application developed for short track speed skating using machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence. Bieuzen and Canadian triathlon champion Jérémy Briand, a McGill math whiz, have designed an app that generates useful projections for coaches.

“A bit like a weather forecast, it allows us to predict the athlete’s condition in the following weeks,” explains Thibault. What is the risk that he gets hurt, that he falls, that he has a wear injury, that he gets depression, that he starts to lose his performance? We are able to predict that with a rate [de réussite] by 80%. » In collaboration with a student and a professor from the École de technologie supérieure, INS Québec has been able to develop a system that makes it possible to study in detail the biomechanics of diving from images of competitions, therefore without the using sensors. In this case, they used “deep learning”, an advanced technique of artificial intelligence.

The Canadian teams benefit from the advances of the INS in the science sector, but also the Quebec federations, welcomes the new retiree, who sees himself above all as an educator.

Me, my passion is to popularize. I don’t see myself as a researcher, even though people think I am. I do research and publications, but I am not a researcher. I am a popular scientist. This is my trip in life.

Guy Thibault

His only regret: not having been able to push the field of robotics further. With the Quebec company Exonetik, the specialists of the Institute wish to create training robots for fencing and water polo. The device could be programmed to “fault a goalkeeper or a foil keeper 8 times out of 10”, for example.

“It’s our dream. We know it’s possible, but we just haven’t found the money. We are talking about a quarter of a million. Boxers can already train with virtual reality glasses.

Guy Thibault is retiring, but he is far from having finished contributing to the development of sports science in Quebec. He will continue to supervise students as an associate professor at the Université de Montréal. He is also pursuing the development of a web application for interval training, his major specialty, which he hopes to market for the benefit of the INS.

Otherwise, he will be on his bike with the desire to “stop the decrease in [ses] cycling performance!

And if you tell him that his training methods, adapted to all levels, allowed you to improve your performance in a Sunday race, you will do him the most beautiful flower.

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Guy Thibault

Guy Thibault’s opinion on…

The effects of the pandemic

“At the start of the pandemic, we were very afraid of myocarditis in athletes. It takes months to recover from inflammation of the heart due to infection. Finally, we have hardly seen any cases. Now recent research, especially in Europe, shows that people are not returning to a healthy lifestyle now that the measures are fading. We’re talking about eating more, drinking more, moving less. That is really worrying, especially among young people. »

Early specialization

Early specialization is to be avoided, but certain sports such as gymnastics, diving or figure skating require specialization at a young age, which is not the same thing, specifies Thibault. INS Québec conducted a study on young athletes aged 12 to 17 who had to specialize very young. “We discovered a lot of interesting things. They don’t sleep during the week because they have crazy schedules. They have no friends outside of sports. On weekends, they have to sleep a lot to compensate. They spend a lot of time in transport. They don’t have much time to study, but surprisingly they are really good at school. The biggest surprise we had was that even in sports where it takes a lot of motor skills, like say gymnastics, they were “caught out” in common physiotherapy or orthopedic tests. Although they were very good at their sport, they did not yet have full universal physical maturation. Sports organizers must therefore be very careful. »

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INS Quebec | A pillar of sports science is stepping down (or almost)

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