Science helping modern athletes but not sure sport is progressing: Edwin Moses - Hindustan Times
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Science helping modern athletes but not sure sport is progressing: Edwin Moses

ByAvishek Roy
Apr 23, 2024 12:34 AM IST

“You can’t compare the times anymore, and can't compare relative greatness,” says former double Olympic 400m hurdles champion

Edwin Moses forever changed the way athletes trained with his use of biomechanics in sport. When athletes were exploring ways to raise performance levels, the champion US hurdler was drawing on his knowledge of science and engineering, devising innovative training methods.

At the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Moses won gold and set his first world record of 47.64 secs(Laureus)
At the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Moses won gold and set his first world record of 47.64 secs(Laureus)

At the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Moses won gold and set his first world record of 47.64 secs. He kept pushing the boundaries -- 47.45 secs (1977), 47.13 secs (1980) and 47.02 secs (1983). His record stood for nine years. All that was possible due to his scientific training approach.

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The US-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games kept him away at his prime, but he was still peerless at the 1984 Los Angeles, winning his second Olympic gold. Moses was also known for a superior stride pattern that kept his rivals behind. Hopes of a third gold at the 1988 Seoul Games were dashed with compatriot Andre Lamar Phillips winning with Moses taking bronze. Moses was unbeaten in the 400m hurdles for 10 years until 1987, winning 122 consecutive races and 107 finals in a row.

The Moses era is well behind us. Cutting edge technology, be it training, diet or shoes, is helping athletes go faster and higher than ever before.

“If I was running with the shoes they are running now with carbon plates and the tracks that are being made to use the energy that you put down and give it back like a spring, like a rebound effect, I could have done 45 secs flat. I was talking about that way back then that running under 46 secs was a reality even on those tracks," Moses says on the sidelines of the Laureus World Sports Awards 2024.

However, despite these better performances, the sport is not really progressing, he says.

"With computerisation and visualisation to the point where you can record everything on your phone and process it through software programmes, more athletes are able to visualise the biomechanical part. I studied it. I was a physicist and an engineer so I knew the numbers part. I know a lot of coaches look smarter because there is more information. Times are faster because now they have shoes that react to the track, give you feedback that would have been illegal. So, the technology is helping and times are a lot faster. It seems like the sport is progressing but I don't think it really is.

"You actually cannot compare the times today. Noah Lyles is doing 19.6 secs, 19.5 secs, Tommie Smith (1968 Olympic 200m champion) was running 19.8 fifty years ago on tracks that were not even close to what it is now. So, you can’t compare the times anymore, and can't compare relative greatness.”

Moses used computers and heartrate monitors, unheard of then.

“I was a data person, a scientist and engineer, so I relied on data. I don't know what athletes do now, most of them listen to their coaches. I didn’t have a coach. I had to develop myself. I was the first to use an ice bath, use computers. Biomechanics was not even a thing when I was using them. There were only a few PhDs in biomechanics in the US. The 400m hurdles is the most difficult event. It’s technical, running over hurdles and you are going to get tired.”

Technological advancements alone don’t guarantee world class performances.

“There is always immense pressure on athletes to clock world record timings. Most never get closer to one, only a few will do. So, the expectation of an athlete getting to that level is pretty unrealistic. Fast times are not for everyone. You just don’t walk out on the tack and run fast. It takes special people to do that.”

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