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How An Armless Archer Trains His Brain To Win Olympic Medals

Paralympian Matt Stutzman, born without arms, has become a world-class archer by shooting with his feet. He trains in remote Iowa, where his only competition is in his mind. So he imagines matches in extreme detail, from the feel of the wind to the sound of a crowd — a technique scientists have shown can register in the brain as if he were physically there.

Stutzman’s story is the first installment of our documentary series “The Mental Games.” “Going for gold” usually means running the fastest, jumping the highest, or landing most flawlessly. We’re used to seeing athletes’ physical execution — now, with innovative technology and scientific techniques, we can also visualize the mental game. Sports psychology has become a bigger priority around the globe, as countries invest in training their Olympians’ minds to perform under pressure. In these episodes, we will explore how cutting-edge neuroscience is helping athletes breach the limits of what’s possible. What they’re discovering isn’t just relevant for athletes; these tools could help all of us improve our health and productivity.

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Michael Tabb is a former video and motion graphics producer at FiveThirtyEight.

Meghan McDonough is a video journalist and FiveThirtyEight contributor.


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