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A Look At How Athletes Have Evolved Over The Last 50 Years

Special from Jane Fanwood.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than a third of all US adults suffer from obesity. Between 1971 and 2000 an average male adult increased his daily intake by 168 calories while the average woman added as much as 335 extra calories a day. That is a lot of extra fuel to burn and if your lifestyle does not include spending time in a gym or on the soccer field, you are going to pack on the pounds.

Soccer boasts a long and interesting history in the USA and while the general population of the USA is battling the bulge our players are undergoing some changes of their own: becoming fitter, faster and stronger. There are many factors that play a part in this phenomenon. Yes, the human body is constantly evolving but there are other contributing factors as well.

The financial incentives offered to professional athletes can by no means be overlooked as a motivating factor to push harder and be better. Children are also getting involved in sport from a younger age with an estimated 3 million young Americans playing soccer for youth clubs in 2014. Add the advances in the fields of everything from gym equipment to nutritional supplements to the equation and it is not surprising that pro athletes across all sports are improving at breakneck speed.

How pro-athletes have evolved over the past 50 years

  • In 1978 US sprinter Steve Williams recorded his official PB of 10.07 seconds making him claimant to the title of fastest man in the world at the time. Weighing 174 lbs and standing 1.92m tall, Williams was nowhere near being a muscular powerhouse like the athletes of today. Dutch superstar, Johan Cruyff, dominated on the soccer field. He later went on to coach AFC Ajax in the 80's and was hailed one of the toughest coaches in terms of fitness training.
  • The 80's already saw a shift within the fitness and sport industries with both male and female athletes enjoying more toned physiques. The 1980's produced some of the greatest sporting legends in US history with the likes of Mike Tyson, Joe Montana and Magic Johnson becoming household names. 1984 to 1996 were known as the Dark Ages of North American soccer. On the international scene Diego Maradona reigned supreme. He was fitter and stronger than most other players at the time, displaying bulging muscles on and off the field.
  • The fastest 100m sprint recorded by an American male athlete was Leroy Burrell's 9.85 seconds recorded in 1994, a new world-record later broken by Canadian Donovan Bailey at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Soccer in the USA started to recover and internationally, a new breed of soccer players was stepping up to the plate. David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zindane were all as well known for their sculpted physiques and off-the-field antics as for the playing skills. A definite shift was noted in the sport.

Then & Now

Today, soccer players are fitter and stronger than ever before. They run faster, hit harder and kick further. Newly-retired Landon Donovan, crowned the greatest American soccer player of all times has often been photographed shirtless, displaying his perfect pecs. To date, apart from the physical changes the soccer players have undergone the most important reform has been driving high school and college soccer to adopt a 10-month season. The principle behind this is that soccer is an all- year sport, a concept still very foreign to the average American sports fan.

As the human body keeps on evolving and information technology allows easy access to meal plans, training programs and and athletes keep working harder at their trade one can't help but wonder what the sport stars of the future will be capable of.