Top positive review
A Deep Dive into Atheltic Success
Reviewed in the United States on July 5, 2018
A great addition to the nature vs nurture debate, this book focuses on specific differences in genetics to analyze how material these effects are on athletic performance. The first third of the book starts a little slow but the reader is well advised to stay with it. Ultimately, the author concludes that a mix of genes, body types and hard work lead to gold medal performance.
The three real strengths of this book are 1) the fascinating examination of how pronounced high achievement clusters around certain ethnic groups 2) how different body types lead to sport specific excellence and 3) how well the author intertwines science with sports narrative to make a very entertaining read.
Examples of 1: In every Olympics since 1980, every finalist in the 100 meters has had West African ancestry. The author hypothesizes that this achievement is due to an adaptation that has mutated the ACTN3 gene to defend against malaria by limiting hemoglobin. This creates an environment great for sprinting but poor for long distances. Or, for long distance running, 17 American men have ever run a marathon in less than 2:10 while 32 Kalenjin men accomplished that mark in October 2011 alone.
2: Kalenjin boys are two inches shorter than Danish boys yet have longer legs creating a better pendulum effect when running long distances. Interestingly, it is thought that long and thin body types are optimal for low latitude, hot and dry environments since it allows for better cooling. Swimmers tend to be taller than sprinters but have shorter legs which allows the body cavity to act as a canoe in the water. In the 2010 NBA season, only two players had shorter arms than their height and the average arm length to height ratio was an abnormal 1.063.
3: Jerome Bettis had his nose broken during a game, had it patched up by having cotton balls inserted in his nose and then had those cotton balls propelled into his stomach after sustaining a vicious hit. Dennis Rodman was let go from his job as an airport janitor and then cleaning cars at an Oldsmobile dealer before a very fortuitous growth spurt.