Irish golfing sensation Rory Mcllroy today said the University of Ulster's model of combining sport with education is the way forward for producing world-class home-grown athletes.
The Co Down golfer was speaking as he officially opened the University of Ulster's Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute (SESRI) laboratories, at the Jordanstown campus.
Rory McIlroy unveiled a plaque at the £1.275 million facilities, before showing off his skills at the state-of-the-art scientific analysis suite, smashing some 300-yard plus drives down the virtual golfing fairway.
When asked if the academic and sport-linked model, like the one operating at Ulster, was the best way forward for sport, he said: "It is, yes definitely.
"Looking back on it, I was very lucky that I was able to succeed so early that I didn't need to go down that path. Not everyone can do that so it's definitely a good thing to do – to do something academically and then try and spend time to improve your game, what ever that may be.
"In terms of all sports, the University of Ulster has everything you need here. Facilities outdoors where you can practice your sport, whether it be football, hockey, rugby or whatever else and then the facilities inside to become stronger, more agile, more flexible – there are all the resources here that you need.
"In the future with the amount of resources that are here, we should be able to produce a number of high-class athletes and sports people. Especially with the new labs opening up here, there's really no excuse for people not to use them and not to compete at the highest level because they have everything that they need now."
The £1.275 million funding for the project came from the Department for Employment and Learning's research capital investment fund, and has brought some of the most up to date sports analysis equipment to the University, including a Bruker electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectrometer.
This machine – which is the first of its kind to be used in Ireland and one of only three in the UK – can measure free radicals in the body, which can determine the likelihood of long-term development of chronic disease.
Professor Eric Wallace, Director of SESRI said: "The Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute has had recent success in the last Research Assessment Exercise and this investment will provide an excellent platform for the development and enhancement of our research activities.
"Our new lab facilities and the associated equipment are world class and state-of-the-art and will permit further leverage of funding to support our work in our research groups involved with Physical Activity and Health and the Sport and Exercise Sciences research groups.
"Work in the latter area includes research into golf biomechanics and technology and I am delighted that Rory McIlroy has taken time out from his PGA Tour schedule in America to perform the opening ceremony at the Jordanstown campus."
At the opening, Rory McIlroy also threw his weight behind the possibilities for retaining rising stars of the game in Ireland.
"Obviously the weather isn't the greatest for a few months of the year here, but we have some of the best golf courses in the world, and we have great indoor facilities so that even if you’re not playing that much golf in the winter, you can still improve your game by working indoors, going into the gym, making yourself stronger and fitter for the new season.
"It's definitely a great opportunity for golfers here that want to improve but stay at home and the University of Ulster is a place they can come and do it."
There are four main laboratory areas for the SESRI, a biochemistry lab, physiology lab, biomechanics lab, and an innovative biomechanics-field lab in the university’s indoor running track.
Biochemistry lab equipment used in theses labs include a spectrophotometer; a DNA microarray scanner; an HPLC adept system; and a microplate reader.
Physiology equipment includes a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), which measures bone composition; a metabolic analysis and nutritional assessment system; and a number of activity monitors.
Biomechanics equipment for analysing sports movement includes a series of force platforms; a 12-camera passive motion capture system; and a quadruple movement analysis CODA motion analysis system.
The technologies involved allowed those present at the opening to view McIlroy’s swing through high motion-sensor cameras and see the dead centre stroke of the ball hitting the club head.