Genes associated with athletic performance
Built to win?
These examples show that genetics probably has an impact on physiological traits that are important for athletic performance. However, the impact of genetics on other factors, such as personality traits (e.g., perseverance, courage) and intellectual abilities, is still largely unknown. In the cases of Bolt and Phelps, one only has to look at their body size and proportions to see that they must have received a few genes that gave them an advantage.
Although the challenge is formidable, one day we will improve our understanding of how genetic factors contribute to athletic performance. The debate will then begin as to whether genetics should be integrated into the mainstream of amateur and professional sports and, if so, how to do so ethically and fairly.
- Allen Kim, “Two of Michael Phelp’s decade-old world records were broken this week,” CNN Sports, July 26, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/26/sport/michael-phelps-swimming-regan-smith-caeleb-dressel-trnd/index.html (source consulted May 12, 2021)
- Del Coso et al. (2019) More than a ‘speed gene’: ACTN3 R577X genotype, trainability, muscle damage, and the risk for injuries. Eur J Appl Phys 119: 49-60.
- Berman and North (2010) A gene for speed: the emerging role of alpha-actinin-3 in muscle metabolism. Physiology 25: 250-9.
- Miyamoto et coll. (2018) Association analysis of the ACTN3 R577X polymorphism with passive muscle stiffness and muscle strain injury. Scand J Med Sci Sports 28: 1209-14.
- Grealy et coll. (2013) The genetics of endurance: frequency of the ACTN3 R577X variant in Ironman World Championship athletes. J Sci Med Sport 16: 365-71.