Building a Machine

The Perfect Athlete

Even in the data-obsessed collective of Type A personalities that is the world of endurance sports, cyclists exist in a league of their own. Perhaps it’s the sport’s mechanical component, which facilitates the collection of figures from wattage to rpm to lactic acid content in the blood; or perhaps it’s the fact that, in track cycling, the occupants of the podium often earn their position by no more than a hundredth of a second. Whatever the reason, cyclists are increasingly regarded as finely tuned machines — defined in the aggregate by a collection of numbers that would baffle a non-athlete.

This clip, produced by Kirk Docker for Australian television, provides a glimpse into the life and training of Olympic track cyclist Shane Perkins. Perko’s team very consciously discusses him in an interestingly impersonal way, albeit with the occasional qualifier about his incredible pain tolerance. Even Perkins refers to his body in a disembodied way — it’s something he calls upon rather than constitutes. In the final seconds of the video, however, Perkins tells us that, once on the velodrome, all the data melts away. When neck and neck with another racer, a more elusive variable comes into play — drive.