Making Titans: Wayne State’s Cynthia Bir helps The Titan Games find its contenders

The tagline for The Titan Games, a U.S. sports competition reality television series hosted by Dwayne Johnson, is “titans aren’t born, they’re made.” But to “make” one, the show needed the right crop of athletes best suited to take part in challenges — with such daunting names as Herculean Pull, Lunar Impact and Mount Olympus — that would test their strength, endurance and mental toughness.

Cynthia Bir, professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Wayne State University, played an integral role in the selection process of Titan athletes. In January, she led a team that assessed more than 60 Titan hopefuls on their physical capabilities.

“We had each of them complete a ‘combine’ comprised of six stations that evaluated everything from strength to power to cardiovascular fitness,” said Bir. “From there, the contestants were chosen to be a part of the show.”

Cynthia Bir at The Titan Games combine
Cynthia Bir and Rodrigo Villalta led the administration of The Titan Games combine.

The athletes came all walks of life, from personal trainers and MMA fighters to doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers, students and teachers. They were divided into groups and rotated every hour between stations that included deadlift, pushups, an obstacle course and a treadmill test to measure VO2 max.

Bir’s team evaluated every contestant’s performance and generated rankings from the data for each station as well as overall. From the original 60-plus athletes that participated, producers chose 18 males and 18 females, along with six alternates, to compete on the show.

This was the second straight year that Bir was chosen to spearhead the Titan combine. In 2019, she and members of her Biomechanics Injury Research Laboratory at the University of Southern California administered the show’s first combine. At that time, Bir was a professor at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, a role she held for six years before her 2019 return to Wayne State, from which she earned two degrees and served on the faculty from 2000-13.

When she agreed to come back to California for the second season of The Titan Games, Bir recruited Rodrigo Villalta (pictured above), manager of USC’s Biomechanics Injury Research Laboratory, to once again be part of the evaluation team.

The Titan Games is far from Bir’s first foray into television. She was the lead scientist for ESPN’s Emmy-winning program Sport Science and National Geographic’s Fight Science, and consulted on a variety of other productions.

“Working under the pressure of only having the athletes for a set amount of time and gathering the best data was something I learned to do well during my time on Sport Science,” she said.

The Titan Games airs in the U.S. on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.


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