Superhumans, the natural way

I was reading this article
Which talks about how much gymnastics have changed over time, showing examples of Olympic gymnasts from 1950s vs now.

They attribute the drastic improvement to humanity’s continuous progress with understanding of what it takes, how it works, etc. And so every year records are broken just a tiny bit and you don’t see the true change until comparing samples from many decades apart.

To the gymnasts of the 50s, modern gymnasts are superhuman.

And being a writer, of course this sounds like a fascinating writing prompt to me. :sweat_smile:

How far can the human body be pushed? What will gymnasts 100 years from now be able to do? Would they have to sacrifice something we take for granted now?


Tagging you because I have a feeling this is your jam @DomiSotto


I actually looked at the similar plot for figure skating, but it was funny/tricky.

There is actually amazing show that puts modern champions in period gear and does side by side track to see if modern champions beat the old ones. It’s on Nature of Things, I think. They did bobsled, speed skating, skeleton…

Let me switch to a computer and quickly type stuff about FS to show that you can’t just grab this idea… and my experience.


Okay, so my idea was that a modern figure skater fails to qualify for 2028 Olympics, but they demonstrate during the Nationals that they are also naturally sensitive to chrono-particles is transported into the past (1980s) to test out time travelling and timeline modifying equipment run by a nefarious organization for their political ends. The prove-positive test was that this skater would qualify, then win the Europeans, and even make the Olympics Team… in 1984. It creates all sorts of conflict.


Once I started digging the materials up, here is what shakes out.

  1. Yes, modern figure skaters are technically more enabled in terms of jumps than the skaters in the 1980s, let alone 1950s.
  2. The reasons are that they train younger, train harder, wear much more comfortable gear and amazing skates (the video on speed skating is AMAZING) and also undergo far more brutal body selection. Some of them are also second or third generations, like Ilya Malinin of US, who is a son of two champion single skaters (usually pairs or ice dancers marry) so he is basically bred for skating… but also, athletes tend to marry athletes and, for figure skating in particular, modern enlightened attitudes help, because kids who would earlier not be considered for sports b/c they are underweight or very small height due to health reasons, can find themselves in figure skating.

That’s said–and I am sure it might be true to gymnastics as well–a modern figure skater is not going to wipe the board with competition in 1980s or 1950s.


Because a judged sport evolves and takes into account what most athletes deliver. And those who do what the most can do BEST are the champions.

In 1980s and prior, figure skating competitions started with COMPULSORY FIGURES, which modern skaters do not compete in. It’s actually the opposite of what modern skating is about. It’s low speed and inane, with skaters circling on left leg, then repeating it on the right leg, when judges stand in a tight circle and judge the precision of the blade control. And it gave so much marks, that short and free didn’t matter. Since it was so boring, it wasn’t televised even then, so it created confusion. Athletes with awesome shorts and free lost to those who looked like nothing special. But they came into the short with a SHWHACK of points for stellar blade control in CF.

Modern skater might not even get to their short or free program because of it. And even if they did, before the onset of 2006 judging system, nobody cared about quality of the jump (pre-rotation, under-rotation) which the scoring is now obsessed over. Back then they wouldn’t even register quad jump likely. It might even be invalidated if it’s not in the rule book.

So, suddenly, the modern figure skater goes and says, Hey, I can do quad jumps! And the judges are like, Huh? Nice, we guess? We’re giving top marks for spirals and how the program makes us feel…

For us, they are superwomen. For 1980s they are not.

If you want to do this about gymnasts, you can’t just take hype without talking to those who deeply understand the history of the sport. In most cases moderns would lose out, since they are NOT trained to do things contemporary to the field.


Nice point. Also, modern style and techniques might have caused disqualification, etc. Standards were different.

Another thing I was thinking is that they would be accused of cheating, and depending on era/place, maybe even witchcraft.


I don’t think it would specifically be because they are trained. Pretty much every culture had recognized people can be out of the ordinary and liked the demonstration of those abilities for entertainment. If they were clamping down on everything, theatre, fair-ground performances etc, if the athletes chose to showcase their abilities in a performance, maybe they will be suffering penalties.

However, if they are not specifically demonstrating their abilities, visually, just going down the street, most athletes in agility sports do not stand out/won’t incite comment. In fact, many of them would look short and stocky, because they are normally shorter than usual, but carry a lot of muscular mass on lower body.

They don’t even ‘turn on’ bearing/charisma until they are in a competition. Also, to demonstrate full extent of their abilities most need specialized equipment and a comparison point. The most amazing feats on bars or rings are useless without safe bars and rings. (Or ice and specialized skates for skaters).

Plus, basically every athlete is at peak for very short time out of their life and out of the year. With the new rules in gymnastics, that peak is stretched out now a bit longer, but it’s still a limited times offer that has to be supported by grueling regimen and a huge team around them.


Another thing I wanted to add to this discussion is what I remember from reading Jackie Chan’s autobiography years ago (I went through a JC phase back then :sweat_smile:, don’t judge).

In the book, he described what it was like to be a student of the traditional Chinese theater school. And it was brutal. What they had them do, how they treated these kids back then would be considered child endangerment and abuse now, but it brought out incredible skills out of them. They were training superhumans in there.

By the time he graduated though, traditional Chinese theater was no longer popular and the only way he could get a job was to be a stuntman in movies. He got his first chance of being noticed by producers only because he agreed to a stunt no one else wanted (falling off a building) and he did it only out of desperation since he had to freaking eat.

And so he mused that he was part of the last generation of traditionally trained performers. To achieve the physical feats they were capable of, you have to do to children what no one will allow anymore.

We can debate if he was right or not.
I think there are sacrifices that modern athletes make at a young age that can be comparable to his experiences.


I know that the practices for training Russian skaters by a certain coach are abusive and the injuries sustained are terrifying. The training has to start before the age of 6, preferably between 2 and 4, or (in figure skating) there is no catching up. The selection is literally by attrition. 8 to 12 hours of training a day is normalized on top of ‘regular’ life. Puberty is ‘treatable’ by starvation in women. Boys are almost expected to live with degenerating joint disease between 14 and 17, because of pushing early quads (as early as age 11) that growing boys can’t handle. By the time they are aged as early as 8-11 yo, they have to make decisions like are they serious about sport. And none of it guarantees success vs a no-name with a broken back.


I wanted to add, I think in any case, to write something with a specific sport, takes an immersion in that sport for a while at least as a serious fan. Like, i know that when I watched the 2021 Oly gymnastics, my expectations were not at all what it looks like. Particularly as a figure skating fan. I told mom, and she was like, oh, yes, I know, I know. Then I sent her the video, and she was totally blown away because she was under the same mistaken expectation and the reality was so radically different… even in two agility based sports that are often compared. :sweat_smile:

Edit: also wanted to appologize for long, long posts!

1 Like

Don’t apologize. I very much welcome you stopping by and share.

1 Like

I think it’s cool that you want to explore a similar idea. Honestly, it’s a time traveling plot that I still feel like I wish I could do…

Time travel stories are really difficult already because you have to deal with paradoxes. Add historical accuracy to the mix and you get even more complexity.

1 Like

Yes, for sure. It’s a fascinating idea though.

1 Like