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How the ‘sports gene’ could be better than doping

by AirTalk®

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Sports Illustrated writer David Epstein looks at the science behind athleticism.

Sometimes we can’t help but think that some people would be genetically predisposed to particular abilities. For example, very tall men often hear that they should play basketball, bulky young boys are chided to try out football, and the long-legged are encouraged to take a go at track and field. According to the 10,000-hour rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers: The Story of Success,” practice means everything. Not so, says Sports Illustrated writer David Epstein. In his new book, “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance,” Epstein calls Gladwell’s research biased because the people he studied were already exceptional. According to Epstein, some people have genes that affect their athletic abilities.

While growing up, Epstein observed that although a fellow runner was more talented than he was, Epstein improved faster with training. He also noticed that the best runners weren’t just Kenyans, they were specifically Kalenjins. “The Sports Gene” mentions how the EPOR gene can cause an athlete to naturally produce more red blood cells, which is the purpose of doping. Other genes affect how someone responds to weight training and regulate how much oxygen is delivered to your body.

Do these genes give athletes unfair advantages? What will it lead to in the future? Can you test for “sports genes”? Would it lead to athletic screening? What about in the medical field? Could this lead to more personalized medicine?

David Epstein and Malcolm Gladwell both join AirTalk to discuss nature v. nurture and the 10,000-hour rule. 


David Epstein, author of "The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance;" he is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and notably covered Lance Armstrong and the Boston Marathon.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Outliers: The Story of Success” (Little, Brown and Company, 2008), which popularized the 10,000-hour rule; he is also a writer for The New Yorker. 

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