The Superhero Genes–One scientist is on a quest to find the genetic mutations that make athletes elite — which may lead to new treatments for the rest of us
There are two indicators predictive of athleticism: VO2max and lactate threshold. VO2max is the maximum oxygen uptake during strenuous exercise. The lactate threshold is the point at which the blood concentration of lactate begins to exponentially increase. Professional endurance athletes have high lactic thresholds, meaning they can run far and fast before cramping, exhaustion, nausea and other symptoms of lactic acid buildup manifest. Although both these indicators can be boosted, albeit modestly, with training, as the example of Caitlin Gregg in the article above shows, obviously some people have genes that allow for superior VO2 max levels and high lactic thresholds, way higher than the general population, that training cannot account for. Owing to superior genetics, Lance Armstrong was pretty much a pro cyclist from the moment he first rode a bike, winning many races in his early teens against older competitors and turning ‘pro’ at the age of only 16. Despite the drug scandal years later, performance enhancing drugs cannot account for his exceptional talent at such a young age, and he was not the only professional cyclist to have used drugs, but because he was so successful, he became a lightning rod for inquiry.
An analog for cognitive ability also exists, IQ, which can be broken down into two components, fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence, but one question is why there is less resistance to the idea of a ‘sports gene’ than, say, a ‘STEM gene’ or a ‘writing gene’. However, although IQ, regrettably, is impervious to ‘brain training’, one can add muscle mass, within one’s biological limits, through strength training. The three major lift routines–bench, dead lift, and squat–can all be improved with training.
Because modern society places a greater precedence on intelligence than physical strength, if some people are born smarter, the implication could also be that they are ‘born better’. From IQ: more than number, part 3:
IQ is a touchy subject because that little number sure predicts an awful lot. A century ago, physical strength was more important, but the information age has made cleverness and information processing more important in terms of individual socioeconomic success. That’s just the uncomfortable reality. We want to believe we have free will and ‘infinite potential’, as instilled by teachers, pop culture, clergy, and parents, but the most important test of all, life, shows otherwise.
The Declaration of Independence says all men are created equal–but if ability is a proxy for ‘worth’, and if IQ and ability are correlated (which studies show is it), and if IQ is genetic (which studies also show to be true, because IQ remains stable throughout life, and also identical twins raised apart have similar IQs as identical twins raised together)–not only are all people not equal, but they are also not created equal. In the context of the Declaration of Independence, equality means ‘equal under God’. If God is infinitely powerful, differences between individuals (such as rich vs poor; smart vs dull) become insignificant, relatively speaking, to God. That’s probably why Marx hated religion–because it rendered his ‘Dialectical materialism’, which is based on class, irrelevant.
Top athletes and entertainers get a lot of status, but there are so few of them; for the majority of people and professions, status and IQ are correlated. And that is kinda a depressing reality for many.
But also, people have more realistic expectations and assessment about their athleticism than mental ability. “Could I be as a good as an MLB player, because I can throw a baseball? No way, but writing…well that’s just words and persistence…I can do that!” Um…no you can’t (at least not as well as a professional, published writer (I don’t mean self-published, and even then verbal IQ matters))