Book Review: The Sports Gene – Why I Won’t be an Olympic Sprinter

In the 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, there was a great panel between David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene – Inside the Science of Extraordinary Sports Performance, and Malcolm Gladwell. The panel was less of a debate, but more a conversation of how you need BOTH nature and nurture to be a top sports athlete in our current society. From that panel, the book was on my to-read shelf, and having just finished it, I highly recommend it to others.

The book mentions numerous cases of why choosing the right “parents” is a key reason people can be elite athletes. From exploring Jamaican sprinters – both the culture around sprinting and unique heritage, Kenyans – their unique genetics and the environment they are raised in, to unique genetic markers that correlate to a high VO2 max, or ability to pass doping tests, it’s a excellent way to expand one’s knowledge of the amazing way we are all born, and the unique environments that determine who we are. For every person who dreamed of being in the Olympics, to every child who dreamed to be in the NBA (yours truly), this book helps to look at sports training and development in  a whole new light. There is no “one way” to train, “one way” to do this…rather, all our genes and bodies are different and we all may respond to different things.

Which means…….there are more questions. It seems that this subject’s surface is only scratched. Though genetics may explain one’s ceiling on VO2 max or development of fast-twitch muscles to be a better sprinter,  it can’t yet explain free-throw percentage? catch and shoot situations? ability to see and track down a fly ball? effort? heart? motivation?

I may not have the genes to be a  gold medalist in the 100m, but I’ve never see a 3-point shot that I didn’t like. And, as Francis Collins in Language of God writes about the amazing infinite complexity of the genome, I also cannot help but be more awed by the miracle of life the more I learn about it. Perhaps the dream (though quickly diminishing at my age) of the NBA is still alive 🙂