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One who knew a lot more than the rest was Dr. LeRoy Walker of North Carolina Central, who later became head coach of the 1976 U.S. Olympic men's track and field team. In the late '50s Walker coached Israel and Ariel. "He told us to do things we never did, like sprints and weight lifting, and we were all so sore after the first day we said, 'This guy is crazy.' But he had a method. He said, 'Go throw 500 times and we will talk. I can't tell you anything now because your variability is so great.' It worked. I got a pattern down and we could go from there. We talked about forces and angles. It was the beginning of a scientific approach."
They also talked about college scholarships, and after Ariel had taken part in the Rome Olympics and spent three years in the Army, he came to the University of Wyoming. "My life was just to throw the discus," he says.
When he graduated in 1966, it was found that Ariel had spent three years at Israel's Wingate Institute, earning a Diploma of Physical Education degree in 1960. He had never thought to tell anyone about it and had thus completed three years of U.S. college athletic competition without being eligible for it. "Wyoming was fun," he says now, "but the coach wasn't like Dr. Walker. It was back to opinion."
Ariel applied to the newly created School of Exercise Science at the University of Massachusetts, got his master's degree in nine months, became an assistant track coach and then plunged into an eclectic set of studies with all the fervor of his early years with the discus. "There had to be 20-hour days for him then," recalls University of Massachusetts Track Coach Ken O'Brien. "I'd find him sleeping at his desk in the mornings. A professor in one of his classes would mention some advance in an allied field, like calculus or cybernetics, and Gideon would go over and take the course."
One such suggestion came from the head of the computer science department. "He said, 'Why don't you apply computers to your mechanics?' " recalls Ariel, who was sick of laboriously tracing every joint on paper, limb by limb, frame by frame. But how? How to find a way of getting all this raw information into the computer? The answer was a device called a digitizer, a screen lined on two sides by 20,000 tiny directional microphones. The coordinates of any point on the screen touched with a sonic pen are automatically registered and fed into the computer. While visiting the Dartmouth Medical School, Ariel happened across one of these instruments, which looks not unlike a movie screen mounted in a console. "Then in 1968 Dartmouth started the computer time-sharing concept. The potential was unbelievable. All I needed was a $50-a-month rental to put a terminal in my house and I could do anything."
With his keyboard terminal installed, Ariel plunged into writing computer programs. "The whole idea is simple," he says. "Human beings are creative, but we have terrible memories. Computers are dumb, but their memories are perfect. You have to guide them, lead them step by step, channel your creativity through the software, the programs, till you have created a monster. It grows and you have to write more and more programs so it can do more and more things." What sustained those thousands of hours of labor? "It is fascinating work, and frustrating. For example, the equipment in our lab, which comes from 10 or 12 different companies, all had to be electronically interfaced. That was hard to figure out, how to get them working together without burning everything up. The exciting part is the conceiving, the finding out what you think you can do. Then it takes a long time to get the computers to actually do it." In other words, this is exactly like any other worthy craft.
In 1971 Ariel founded Computerized Biomechanical Analysis, or C.B.A., and landed a few contracts testing basketballs for Spaulding and shoes for Uniroyal. This allowed him to purchase more advanced equipment. Purdy predicts that Ariel is now about to reap rewards far above professional satisfaction. "If he's solved those problems of practical application, he'll find a ton of marketable uses. Look what digitizing analysis could do for the sports that are now judged subjectively, like diving or gymnastics. For the first time we could really measure how close a performer comes to perfection. Think of that, we wouldn't have those prejudiced Russian judges in there messing up results."
And there is always the lucrative world of product development. The key to opening it is the software, those valuable programs that are generally not copyrighted (one tiny change in a lengthy series of instructions to a computer obviously can cause drastically changed results). Add the fact that few scientists in the field are business oriented, least of all Ariel, and the situation seems ripe for corporate wrangling. Since receiving his Ph.D. in exercise science in 1972, Ariel has been involved in a train of legal skirmishes with an exercise-equipment company that couldn't stomach his analysis of its product (settled out of court with a public apology to Ariel), and with a colleague and one-time professor over some rights to C.B.A. Possessed of an unshakable faith in his own rectitude, Ariel will surely live out his life as one of those litigation-prone scientists—da Vinci was one—who feel somehow unclothed unless they have six lawsuits pending.
Gideon Ariel does not claim to be a true pioneer in biomechanical analysis. Sweden's Ingvar Fredricson has been studying the motion patterns of standard-bred horses with a computer for 10 years, predicting lameness from minute stride irregularities, and discovering that most trotting tracks are banked too much on the straightaways and too little on the turns, placing dangerous stress on delicate forelegs. At Penn State, Peter Cavanagh is well along in a study of human stride patterns. But as Ed Burke, the U.S. record holder in the hammer throw and a close friend of Ariel's, says, "A lot of biomechanical people are contributing in their own quiet way. Gideon is contributing in his own, uh, inimitable way."
Ariel has had occasion to see what he might have ended up doing had he not harnessed the computer. "In 1972 I was in Spain and met with some East German coaches. I looked at the East German shotputters and saw that they all threw with exactly the same form, as if they had been molded that way. They all lifted their back legs before they released the shot. I mentioned this and a coach said, 'Oh really? We'll have to correct that.' I said, 'Don't give me that. It's good.' I knew we had something in common, a shared knowledge. Equations of motion are equations of motion. I saw notes from years before. Those men began long before I did. But they'd been doing it by hand. Imagine 15 engineers working a month to chart one shotput!"