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  • We've taken six of the world's top athletes

  • to find out what it takes to make a true Olympian.

  • Now we're working, come on!

  • - Testing, analysing. - Dig deep, come on!

  • Getting under the skin of an elite athlete...

  • ..as we push their bodies to the max.

  • (ANATOMY OF A GYMNAST)

  • Artistic gymnastics

  • really does require a range of skills physiologically,

  • psychologically, technically across a broad

  • range of different disciplines.

  • When we look at gymnasts, what we're really looking for

  • is an all-round package.

  • Vanessa Ferrari is 25 years old and Italy's most decorated

  • female gymnast — a former world

  • and European all-round title holder.

  • The Olympic Games Rio 2016

  • was Vanessa's third appearance at a Games.

  • She placed 4th in the Floor Exercise

  • and proved once again why she is

  • one of the world's elite performers.

  • And few sports put a human body through

  • the levels of punishment that gymnasts experience.

  • (VANESSA FERRARI, ARTISTIC GYMNAST)

  • It's been a very difficult year for me.

  • First, I contracted glandular fever and then

  • I've had a problem with my tendon, which I haven't

  • fully recovered from yet, but thankfully I'm still able

  • to train and I'm sure I'll give my best.

  • Vanessa Ferrari!

  • We've brought Vanessa

  • to one of the world's leading human performance labs

  • to see what makes a gymnast's physiology so totally unique.

  • Vanessa's anatomy packs massive amounts of strength

  • and explosive power into a very compact body type.

  • The average female Olympic gymnast is smaller than 80%

  • of the adult population and Vanessa is even 10cm shorter

  • than most of her fellow competitors.

  • In general, female gymnasts tend to be petite -

  • they are short, they are light, and why is that?

  • Because the biomechanics of tumbling

  • require shorter individuals

  • in order to get the rotational speeds required.

  • But, at the same time, they have to be incredibly strong

  • and incredibly powerful in order to give them

  • the time to jump high to execute some of these

  • really complex moves.

  • We're going to do the DEXA scan first.

  • So, it's a test that measures your body composition

  • and bone mineral density, it's very quick.

  • A gymnast is not an endurance athlete, so we don't expect

  • Vanessa to show the same breakdown

  • between lean tissue and fat.

  • But the high impacts and rapid transitions of movement

  • that gymnastics require need a muscular physique,

  • so how will Vanessa measure up?

  • Your fat percentage is around 14,

  • quite below the average, as you suspected.

  • An Olympic rower has an average body fat percentage of 15.5,

  • Vanessa's 14.6 compares really well for an essentially

  • anaerobic athlete and, surprisingly,

  • not much more than the 13.7% of a track cyclist.

  • She is petite, perfect for gymnastics,

  • perfect for tumbling.

  • She's also incredibly lean, 14.6% body fat,

  • which tells you that the vast majority of her weight

  • is muscle mass and that is absolutely fundamental

  • to power production.

  • (DYNO)

  • The dynamometer test really is a measure of strength,

  • but we're also looking at the balance

  • between quadriceps and hamstrings.

  • Why does that matter? It matters for performance,

  • but it also matters for injury prevention,

  • particularly for gymnasts who are repeating moves,

  • over and over again.

  • The dyno test will quantify just how powerful

  • the muscles are that Vanessa needs

  • to complete the complex manoeuvres that form

  • the artistic gymnastics routine.

  • This is where we'll really see the strength behind the stats.

  • When we start the assessment in just a second,

  • I want you to push, push, push, push

  • and then pull back your leg as hard as you can as well.

  • OK? So, when you're ready,

  • Three, two, one, go!

  • Push, push, push. Good!

  • Vanessa may not be at full power output

  • due to her tendon injury,

  • but she is still pushing loads which are remarkable

  • for an athlete of her size.

  • Artistic gymnasts need this phenomenal power

  • to rotate their bodies

  • through as much as 900 degrees of movement

  • in less than a second,

  • and to gain heights approaching five metres

  • during the vault exercise.

  • Good, push, push, push!

  • Excellent! One more to go, push, push, push!

  • Pull it right back, well done.

  • Excellent, well done. As hard as you can.

  • Well done. Push, push push. Excellent, well done.

  • Vanessa's dyno test results show just

  • how powerful she really is,

  • her quadricep strength coming in at a higher rating

  • than elite football players.

  • And even with a debilitating tendon injury,

  • the force generated by her hamstrings gives her

  • an excellent power-to-weight ratio.

  • What we do know about Vanessa is that she is a former

  • all-round world champion.

  • She's had an incredible career from 2006

  • all the way through to 2016.

  • And one of the reasons for that is her physicality.

  • And her physicality is exceptional and what we see

  • from this test in particular,

  • the thing that surprised me the most,

  • was the balance between hamstring and quadricep,

  • and really underpins why she is able to perform

  • the incredible complex manoeuvres

  • that she can in gymnastics.

  • Vanessa's results are impressive,

  • but how does she measure up

  • against the other elite female athletes we've tested?

  • Jolanda Neff, the Swiss cycling sensation,

  • showed us her ability to deliver maximal power output

  • consistently over long periods of time.

  • Her superb dyno results demonstrating

  • a peak performance that more than compensates

  • for Jolanda's size advantage over the average gymnast.

  • Monika Hojnisz, the Polish Biathlon national champion,

  • excels in a sport based around the need

  • for exceptional endurance, but her leg strength produced

  • some truly surprising results.

  • Her raw output figures were good, but when normalised

  • for her body mass they were breathtaking.

  • This all gives her an unbeatable

  • power-to-weight ratio,

  • a physiological advantage that she could transfer

  • to the elite level of many other sports.

  • Recent studies have shown female athletes

  • are six times more likely to suffer leg injury

  • than their male counterparts and a key indicator

  • of resilience to leg injury is the ratio

  • of hamstring to quadricep strength.

  • A ratio between 50% and 80% is average

  • for a professional female athlete.

  • Gymnast Vanessa rates outstandingly at 89%,

  • cyclist Jolanda better still at 98%,

  • and biathlete Monika's stunning 132% tops the chart.

  • (UP CLOSE)

  • I started doing gymnastics when I was seven years old.

  • When I was little, I saw a beam gymnastics

  • competition on TV.

  • I can't remember which competition it was

  • or even who the gymnast was,

  • but I remember being so impressed

  • with what I saw that I begged my mother

  • to let me do this incredible sport.

  • I felt the pressure to do well when I was younger

  • and especially after becoming world all-around champion.

  • But now I'm older and have had to overcome

  • many difficulties throughout my career,

  • with the help of the people closest to me,

  • my coach and my family,

  • I know that I can only do my best.

  • That's why I don't feel any pressure,

  • except for that special tension before a competition.

  • Doing gymnastics involves a lot of sacrifice,

  • especially because we start at such a young age.

  • At first, you think it's all just a game

  • but then the expectation of success increases.

  • A lot of young athletes find these demands

  • difficult to handle.

  • To compete at the highest level

  • requires a lot of concentration.

  • As gymnastics is essentially an individual sport,

  • there's no-one to keep you calm,

  • especially at the Olympics

  • which is the most nerve-racking

  • of all competitions.

  • It's all about finding the right level of concentration

  • and isolating yourself from what's going on

  • around you to be able to perform to your best.

  • (FLEX)

  • The functional movement screen is going to tell us

  • a number of things about Vanessa.

  • Firstly, it's going to tell us about the range

  • of motion which is critical for gymnastic performance.

  • But what's key to that is actually stability

  • under that range of motion,

  • the ability to control those movements.

  • So, really, what we are looking at here is

  • fundamentally what gymnastics is all about -

  • it's about range of motion under control.

  • My best disciplines are the beam and the floor exercise.

  • They showcase my speed and explosive power

  • and, combined, with my flexibility

  • are my greatest strengths.

  • Artistic gymnastics works more muscle groups in the body

  • than almost any other Olympic discipline.

  • The flex test uses functional movement screening

  • to assess how close to optimum level Vanessa

  • can operate and how much her current injury

  • might be holding her back.

  • What we are looking at here is your mobility

  • and your stability, and this test

  • has been shown to have an ability to predict a person's

  • risk of injury and also their ability

  • to maintain or improve performance.

  • Over, touch your heel on the floor

  • and back to where you are with your left foot, please.

  • Artistic gymnastics requires Vanessa's body

  • to absorb massive impacts on landing.

  • She also has to sustain rapid shifts

  • in momentum during the extreme acceleration

  • and deceleration phases of her routines.

  • And, after 18 years in training, it takes a huge toll

  • on the body and its range of movement.

  • Push up so your hips stay on the floor,

  • extending your back.

  • The beam exercise demands the ultimate in flexibility

  • and precision of movement from a gymnast,

  • as they rotate their body at speeds of up to 20kmph

  • to land on an apparatus no wider

  • than the average smartphone.

  • Very slowly, keeping this leg very still

  • and making sure not to bend this one.

  • Pain in Vanessa's tendon and her reduced

  • thoracic spine mobility

  • are the results of recent training injuries

  • but her test results prove

  • she's still a world-class Olympian.

  • The results are excellent particularly in the areas

  • of core stability and hip stability, which is effectively

  • what we expect from a former world champion

  • in artistic gymnastics.

  • What that means is that not only is she able to move

  • through incredible ranges of motion but she's able

  • to do that under control.

  • So what she's able to do is not only perform these

  • complex skills but also present the aesthetic

  • which is required in that crucial marking system

  • in artistic gymnastics.

  • In a 12-year career, Vanessa Ferrari

  • has reached the heights of her sport,

  • with a collection of titles few can match.

  • For an artistic gymnast, injury is a part of everyday

  • life and Vanessa's performance in our tests

  • show her remarkable ability to overcome this.

  • It is the commitment, poise and power that this sport

  • demands that makes the anatomy

  • of a gymnast truly unique.

  • Overall, Vanessa is outstanding,

  • she is Italy's greatest ever

  • artistic gymnast and I think the results

  • really demonstrate that.

  • She has, as we would expect, incredible mobility.

  • In other words, she can move through incredible

  • ranges of motion, but she has stability,