New sports science documentary asks: what makes a champion?

If the 1936 Olympic gold medallist Jesse Owens was to race against Usain Bolt today, he would be 14 feet behind him. Has the human race evolved so much since then to make sporting feats like this possible? Or we have a superior understanding of how get the most out of our bodies?

A new two-part documentary series sees celebrated athlete Michael Johnson delving into what makes a champion, exploring the dramatic impact sports sciences has had on professional sports to date.

Produced by The Moment in partnership with The Open University, the first episode of Chasing Perfection is broadcast this Sunday 15 November, at 7.05am on Channel 4. It explores how sports science has changed in the last 20 years, following the path taken by athletes from birth to the elite start line, and you can watch the trailer here.

Michael Johnson talks to a 13-year-old boy from London whose dream is to become a professional footballer, and covers the topics of technique, coaching methods and parental support to enable him to achieve his dream.

He also speaks to leading sports science journalist David Epstein and a family of athletes combining natural genetic gifts with the latest scientific understanding of sport to achieve success, and joins the Brazilian Paralympics team training with latest technology to positively impact their sport.

In the second episode, Michael reviews the serial champion - those who appear on the podium time after time - mental strength and the role it plays in sport success, and talks to five times World Snooker Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, six times Olympic cycling champion Sir Chris Hoy, and 20 times champion jockey AP McCoy.

Speaking about the making of the documentary, the OU's Ben Oakley, Senior Lecturer Sport and Fitness, said:

“It has been fascinating working with Michael Johnson on this series and seeing the range of people he has been able to meet. Sport technology devices produce massive amounts of data and what the programme highlights is how athletes can use this in their preparation. Michael uncovers how extremely personalised the data can make the training methods but also that understanding culture and the mental aspects of sport plays a significant part in progressing legal performance.

In this video, Ben Oakley explains more about some of the themes covered in this series and what it means to be an academic consultant on a programme.