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Effects Of Training And Genetics On Elite Athletes

1688 words - 7 pages

Every elite athlete makes it look easy. Splashing through the water or striding gracefully down the track making it look effortless. Some people assume they are “naturals,” that their perfect DNA sequence is what has brought them to this level. Others argue that hard work and drive is what has made the difference, separating the elite from the average. These thoughts are the ones that give rise to the age-old nature vs. nurture debate. Countless hours of studies and research has concluded: it’s both. High performance sports consultant Ross Tucker puts it this way, “The science of success is about the coming together of dozens, perhaps hundreds of factors” (1). The relationship of such factors, including genetics, types and lengths of training, and environment are interlaced in such a tightly woven web that it has proven to be extremely difficult to discern exactly how much effect each one has.
Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, University of Utah biology researcher Riddhita Chakraborty explains how scientists have been able to “read” a person’s entire genetic makeup (1). Genes are sequences of DNA that will determine characteristics like height, eye color, and hair color, just to name a few (1). Finding specific genes for each characteristic, despite the fact there are nearly 23,000 per person, seems like it would be a relatively simple process given today’s advanced technology. However, according to David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, our genes appear to be far more complex than originally believed (24). As scientists have delved deeper into human genetics, the idea of finding one simple gene that correlates to a specific characteristic appears less and less realistic. For something even as basic as height, hundreds of thousands of gene variants have been found (Tucker 3). Scientists have been searching for a specific “athlete” gene, but so far have made little headway (4). In fact, there is a high probability that there isn’t one at all (4). More than likely, there is a group of genes that interact with each other in just the right way to produce a high-level unique athlete (4).
A person’s genes are ultimately determined by their parents. Each person has two copies of a specific gene, one from their mother and one from their father. Even though both of the genes received are technically for the same trait, they can be alleles (or variants) of the gene (Chakraborty 1). This explains why all people look and act differently, even though we ultimately have the same basic genetic structure. Each unique allele that a person has will determine the type of athlete they can become, as well as their abilities (1). Tom Brutsaert and Esteban Parra, anthropologists and co-authors of “Genetics and Sports: Nature versus Nurture in Determining Athletic Ability” identify things like muscle strength and power, aerobic capacity, muscle fiber types, response to training, and body size and composition as decidedly heritable...

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