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Genetics and Athletic Performance

By Gaurav Sharma

Flipping across any sports channel, you will often find spectacular athletes at every corner. Whether it’s Russell Westbrook driving down the lane for a monster dunk over a defender or one of Usain Bolt’s races where he seamlessly cruises along the finish while he looks back at his competition, it’s clear what everyone thinks about them….. Super Athletes.

Any child grows up and watches sports will often name a couple of athletes that they aspire to be like. Lebron James. Michael Phelps. Novak Djokovic. The next wave of great athletes are also around the corner and seem even more athletic than the last generation. Big names such as Zion Williamson, a highschool basketball player now going to play college basketball at Duke, are already making names for themselves for outstanding athleticism. Zion has already drawn comparisons to Lebron through his dunking and he looks to have a better career since he is already NBA ready while just finishing high school.

In the age of advancing technology and knowledge, parents are looking at genetic testing to see if their children have the genes to become the next super athlete. Before genetic testing came out, parents had already made an effort to get their children into sports to become the next great athlete. Some parents wake up early to get their children to an early practice at 6 in the morning and some even let their children stay all the way in the night till 10 to practice after school. These aren’t high schoolers; rather they are 4,5, or 6 year olds who are being pushed to become an athlete so that their parents can reap the benefits.

Genetic testing opened up a new door to parenting. According to Roger Collier, parents are now also looking towards genetic testing to see what sport they should place their children in. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing has been readily available to the public for some time now, but it is now taking a specific focus on what to test now. While there are genetic testing for other cases such as genetic diseases being passed down, there has been an even bigger market opening for genetic testing of athletic performance. Parents and ordinary gym goers are beginning to use these tests for their advantage. These tests often look at certain genes such as ACTN3 and ACE. Parents use these tests to determine if sports are their child’s calling and, if so, what sport they should choose. For example, if they have the better version of the ACE allele, then their child will have better endurance which is suited for track. Having the better ACTN3 allele would mean the child would be stronger so that they would be more suited to go into weightlifting.

However, while these tests are reliable in terms of the data they provide, it often never correlates exactly if a child will have an athletic disposition. What many people fail to realize is that it isn’t one gene that can change a person’s athletic disposition, it is the interaction between many genes. Genome published that are 200 genetic variants linked to physical performance and more than 20 variants associated with elite athlete status. Researchers also suspect many other gene variants that contribute to elite athlete status so the number could grow soon. There are countless numbers of individuals who have proven these tests wrong. The British Journal of Sports Medicine even support the idea that these genetic tests cannot determine sporting talent or performance due to the limited knowledge. Claude Bouchard, the John W. Barton Sr. chair in genetics and nutrition at Pennington Biomedical Research Center said “These genomic tests have no scientifically established predictive value.” While these genetic tests can be useful, it should not be the sole focus of the parents. Parents should avoid forcing their child to do a sport due to these tests due to their unreliability.

These athletes and others have inspired children around the globe, but it has also done another thing; inspired parents across the country. How would you feel if you could be the next Lebron James to earn billions of dollars and have worldwide stardom? How would you feel if you knew which sport was the sport you would be next hall of famer in? Will the answer be genetic testing? One thing that is true is that athletes are made by self-motivation, not by a data sheet.

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