What gives elite athletes the edge?

Every year, athletes set new world records. But are today’s top performers really better than athletes of the past? Are sprinters faster or do they just have better shoes and tracks? Are swimmers stronger or do they just have sleeker swimsuits?

These questions exist for all sports where technology has advanced and achievement is precisely measured in millimetres or milliseconds.

What if the greatest high-performance athletes – present and past – could compete against each other on a level playing field? If competitive conditions were equalized, would today’s stars come out on top? Or would they be beaten by heroes of the past?

Mariposa Bicycles in Toronto
Mariposa Bicycles in Toronto is building the bike to be used in our 3 km individual pursuit event

In The Equalizer, we will investigate five major sporting events where technology is a factor:

• Kayak, men’s 500m
• Track Cycling, women’s 3000m individual pursuit
• Swimming, men’s 200m freestyle
• Athletics, women’s javelin throw
• Athletics, men’s 100m

The athletes we have chosen are elite performers eager to run, swim, kayak, cycle or throw using equipment from the past, then switch to their current gear to find out exactly how much edge the latest technology gives them.

For each of the events, we’ll look at all the variables that go into a winning performance – such as athletic gear, training, nutrition and psychology. Then we’ll crunch the numbers and translate our discoveries into cinematic 3D animation of statistically equalized matchups between past and present record holders. The result will be a thrilling competition leading to a stunning climax that will reveal which athletic heroes are truly the greatest of all time.

The Equalizer is a coproduction with Berlin Producers for broadcast on CBC Nature of Things, SRC Explora, ZDF Arte and more international broadcasters.