The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 161723012X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The New York Times bestseller – with a new afterword about early specialization in youth sports.

The debate is as old as physical competition. Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training?

In this controversial and engaging exploration of athletic success and the so-called 10,000-hour rule, David Epstein tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far science has come in solving it. Through on-the-ground reporting from below the equator and above the Arctic Circle, revealing conversations with leading scientists and Olympic champions, and interviews with athletes who have rare genetic mutations or physical traits, Epstein forces us to rethink the very nature of athleticism.

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noted, never used the term “10,000-hours rule.” In a 2012 paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, he ascribed the phrase’s popularity to a chapter title in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which, he wrote, “misconstrued” the conclusions of the violin study.) When I asked Dan McLaughlin whether he had any concern that he might, like some of the chess players, be a 20,000-hours guy as opposed to a 10,000-hours guy, he said that he considered the journey a victory in itself. “When it comes

*Slow-twitch muscle fibers require abundant oxygen, and thus are surrounded by blood vessels, which makes them appear dark. At Thanksgiving dinner, you can tell that turkeys are predominantly walkers, not fliers, because the dark meat is in the legs, and white, fast-twitch meat is in the breast. The slow-twitch fibers are iron-rich, so if you’re looking to add iron to your diet, go for the turkey legs. *A 2009 study of 1,423 Russian endurance athletes and 1,132 nonathletes found a

he crashed through the hurdles, and in eighth grade he pulled a muscle in the 50-yard dash. So this time around, in the spring of 1962, he opted for the longest race the team offered, which happened to be the quarter-mile, or 400-meters; one lap around the track. Before the tryout, he asked God to please let him make this team. When the PE teacher shouted “Go!” the boy burst to the front. He had found his calling. He was alone in the lead, his feet pounding the track like pistons with just

reinforced, as they do on every track team. I embraced the image of the hardened walk-on who squeezed drops of improvement out of a talent-dry rock of a body. When I reflect on it now, though, with the HERITAGE Family Study as my filter, I believe that the story was nothing more than a narrative that obscured a tale of genes and gene/training interactions, a tale that was playing out hidden from sight. One day during my senior year, while searching for a cloistered nook in which to puke, I

with those of African Americans.) Numerous studies, as well as population data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, have replicated this result in the years since, including in athletes. In a colossal 2010 study of 715,000 blood donors across America, researchers wrote that African Americans exhibit a “lower genetic set point for hemoglobin,” regardless of environmental factors like nutrition.* Like sickle-cell trait, genetically low hemoglobin—all else being equal—is a genetic

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