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Video: David Epstein TED Talk on Whether Athletes Have Gotten Faster, Better, and Stronger

I came across this TED Talk video on the 278 to Boston blog. In the video David Epstein questions whether athletes really have gotten faster, better, and stronger. He looks at things like the role of technology in improving athletic performance, the role of body types in various sports, and much more (lots of running stuff in there). Very interesting presentation!

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This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Certainly athletes have gotten faster. Better technology, better training, better nutrition and harder competition mean athletes HAVE TO perform harder and get better. Are we nearing a peak where performance levels plateau? It will have to happen eventually – there’s only so fast someone can scientifically and physically go, but everything together helps.

  2. Very interesting presentation. I have to quibble with the use of the term “artificial selection.” To me, that would imply athletes with specialized body types are inter-breeding to produce children with even more pronounced specializations. Is that actually happening? My understanding of this talk is that athletes can now be recruited from very wide pools of candidates. Amongst these wide pools, more specialized body-type individuals are available to choose from/be chosen.

    • Yeah, I don’t think he was using that phrase in the sense that we are selectively choosing traits to breed athletes specialized for particular sports.

    • While I agree with Chuck W that the use of the term “artificial selection” can be misleading and I also agree with Pete that the speaker in the video wasn’t really using the term to refer to selectively breeding athletes for traits, selective breeding does happen in the sports world, if you believe the rumors and stories circulating about the People’s Republic of China’s national sports programs, with the highest profile case being that of former NBA player (and eight-time NBA All-Star) Yao Ming:

      It’s a simultaneously sad and horrifying (from a medical ethics standpoint) story. Still, the PRC likely isn’t unique in this regard, although that’s probably just the cynic in me talking.

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