The Sports Gene


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The Sports Gene

Postby bambam » Wed Aug 07, 2013 2:30 am

The Sports Gene is a new book by David Epstein of Sports Illustrated, looking at both genetic and training sources of greatness in sports. Brilliant work. Well-research with lots of research into high-level medical sources. Well-written and a very interesting read - read it over the weekend. Highly recommend it.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby Vielleicht » Wed Aug 07, 2013 7:03 am

bambam wrote:The Sports Gene is a new book by David Epstein of Sports Illustrated, looking at both genetic and training sources of greatness in sports. Brilliant work. Well-research with lots of research into high-level medical sources. Well-written and a very interesting read - read it over the weekend. Highly recommend it.

I read the excerpts and various reviews on magazines, it does seem to be a very good read. Have you read it all? How much percentage of it is devoted to athletics? There was a lot about baseball which is a sport I'm not interested in.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby KDFINE » Wed Aug 07, 2013 7:54 am

I was on vacation recently and read about it in a newspaper provided by the hotel, probably "USA Today." It was interesting and "true" but as I recall a prominent example given left a lot out. I obviously don't know if this was the bias of the news reporter or of the book itself.
The article told of Dwight Thomas vis a vis Stefan Holm. Thomas came out of nowhere and would have preferred basketball, which we all know. Holm spoke of all the hours of training that he put in. The article mentioned how Thomas beat Holm at the WC. Nowhere in the article did it mention that Holm was only 5"11" and the height disparity between the two, their respective PR's, or that Holm was OC. Holm certainly would seem to have come closer to maximizing his genetic potential (if we assume that height is the prevailing factor but what of speed and agility?) because of all the hours that he put in in order to perfect his art like a great piano player who might have perfect pitch, but won't become a concert pianist without hours and hours of practice. Disclaimer: I tend to root for shorter high jumpers.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby bambam » Wed Aug 07, 2013 8:15 am

Vielleicht wrote:
bambam wrote:The Sports Gene is a new book by David Epstein of Sports Illustrated, looking at both genetic and training sources of greatness in sports. Brilliant work. Well-research with lots of research into high-level medical sources. Well-written and a very interesting read - read it over the weekend. Highly recommend it.

I read the excerpts and various reviews on magazines, it does seem to be a very good read. Have you read it all? How much percentage of it is devoted to athletics? There was a lot about baseball which is a sport I'm not interested in.


Actually the book is primarily about running, track & field, and Olympic sports. The opening chapter deals with baseball/softball but that is not the focus of the book - maybe why I liked it so much. Yes, I read the whole thing this weekend.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby bambam » Wed Aug 07, 2013 8:16 am

KDFINE wrote:Nowhere in the article did it mention that Holm was only 5"11" and the height disparity between the two, their respective PR's, or that Holm was OC.


All of that is mentioned in the chapter on Thomas and Holm. Might not have been in the excerpt but it was in the chapter.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby batonless relay » Wed Aug 07, 2013 9:10 am

KDFINE wrote:I was on vacation recently and read about it in a newspaper provided by the hotel, probably "USA Today." It was interesting and "true" but as I recall a prominent example given left a lot out. I obviously don't know if this was the bias of the news reporter or of the book itself.
The article told of [Donald] Thomas vis a vis Stefan Holm. Thomas came out of nowhere and would have preferred basketball, which we all know. Holm spoke of all the hours of training that he put in. The article mentioned how Thomas beat Holm at the WC. Nowhere in the article did it mention that Holm was only 5"11" and the height disparity between the two, their respective PR's, or that Holm was OC. Holm certainly would seem to have come closer to maximizing his genetic potential (if we assume that height is the prevailing factor but what of speed and agility?) because of all the hours that he put in in order to perfect his art like a great piano player who might have perfect pitch, but won't become a concert pianist without hours and hours of practice. Disclaimer: I tend to root for shorter high jumpers.

I haven't read the book, but height wouldn't have been my first area to question, it would be that "jumping" is learned and that Thomas was an exception, not an example to write a book about (Thomas had been playing basketball; now had he been a computer programmer who had NEVER run track or played basketball then I'd be shocked.). If we measure 300 people with the same vertical leap -and as least as tall- as Thomas we might find 10 others that could jump as high in the HJ, maybe even fewer...maybe a lot fewer. Not saying that he has a specific gene that makes him a high jumper - or not, but the idea that every skill has a specific gene seems...well, a bit contrived.

There also seems to a zero-sum game to this "research". It compares Holm to Thomas as if Thomas is a superman and Holm is a piker. Ridiculous. Wouldn't it have made more sense to compare Thomas to an athlete who didn't even make the championships but had trained his whole life to be a HJer? Or Tora Harris? Germaine Mason? Jamie Nieto? Did they not have the gene? Why choose Holm to compare against?
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby bambam » Wed Aug 07, 2013 11:14 am

batonless relay wrote:I haven't read the book, but height wouldn't have been my first area to question, it would be that "jumping" is learned and that Thomas was an exception, not an example to write a book about (Thomas had been playing basketball; now had he been a computer programmer who had NEVER run track or played basketball then I'd be shocked.). If we measure 300 people with the same vertical leap -and as least as tall- as Thomas we might find 10 others that could jump as high in the HJ, maybe even fewer...maybe a lot fewer. Not saying that he has a specific gene that makes him a high jumper - or not, but the idea that every skill has a specific gene seems...well, a bit contrived.

There also seems to a zero-sum game to this "research". It compares Holm to Thomas as if Thomas is a superman and Holm is a piker. Ridiculous. Wouldn't it have made more sense to compare Thomas to an athlete who didn't even make the championships but had trained his whole life to be a HJer? Or Tora Harris? Germaine Mason? Jamie Nieto? Did they not have the gene? Why choose Holm to compare against?


Well, maybe you should read the book before you criticize it. Its pretty good.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby TN1965 » Wed Aug 07, 2013 11:45 am

I haven't read the book yet, but one thing I find interesting is the concept of "high responders." Some people respond to certain training better than others, but many people fail to understand it. Two people start with the same level, do the exact same workouts for a given period, and yet one improves more rapidly than the other. Often times, people assume that the one improving faster is working "harder" and even blame the slow improver for "lack of effort." But that may not be the case at all. The faster improver may simply be a better responder. I hope coaches (especially the ones who are coaching younger athletes) understand this. It is frustrating enough that you are not improving as fast as your teammates, you don't have to be told by your coach that you are not working hard enough.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby KevinM » Wed Aug 07, 2013 12:18 pm

bambam wrote:Well, maybe you should read the book before you criticize it. Its pretty good.


But that would get in the way of a half-cocked rant!

I'm guessing bambam knows this (since it's in the book jacket), but Epstein was an 800 guy at Columbia in the late 90s/early 00s.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby batonless relay » Wed Aug 07, 2013 12:23 pm

TN1965 wrote:I haven't read the book yet, but one thing I find interesting is the concept of "high responders." Some people respond to certain training better than others, but many people fail to understand it. Two people start with the same level, do the exact same workouts for a given period, and yet one improves more rapidly than the other. Often times, people assume that the one improving faster is working "harder" and even blame the slow improver for "lack of effort." But that may not be the case at all. The faster improver may simply be a better responder. I hope coaches (especially the ones who are coaching younger athletes) understand this. It is frustrating enough that you are not improving as fast as your teammates, you don't have to be told by your coach that you are not working hard enough.

The Japanese sprint coaches feel that they need to train their athletes differently than non-Japanese sprinters and they would have to be considered a top-5 country in the sprints.

bambam wrote:Well, maybe you should read the book before you criticize it. Its pretty good.

It appears you're still sore from being forced out of your criticism closet a few weeks back. Oh, well. Anyway, you're doing a good job of promoting the book, I hope there is a big commission in it for you.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby bambam » Wed Aug 07, 2013 12:52 pm

I don't recall any criticism closet, batonless relay, although listening to your rants is becoming quite tiresome. I am not promoting the book because I am getting anything from it. I simply thought it was a good book. You obviously know better, without even having read the book. I wish I was that good as I could save some time reading the books.

People sign in to this message board for enjoyment usually. I don't know why you insist on making this a me against you with everyone on the board. You make this a non-pleasurable experience for most of us. If you think these rants are your attempts to "win" an argument against me and all the other posters, congratulations. You win. I really don't care to deal with your tirades.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby batonless relay » Wed Aug 07, 2013 1:16 pm

bambam wrote:I don't recall any criticism closet, batonless relay, although listening to your rants is becoming quite tiresome. I am not promoting the book because I am getting anything from it. I simply thought it was a good book. You obviously know better, without even having read the book. I wish I was that good as I could save some time reading the books.

People sign in to this message board for enjoyment usually. I don't know why you insist on making this a me against you with everyone on the board. You make this a non-pleasurable experience for most of us. If you think these rants are your attempts to "win" an argument against me and all the other posters, congratulations. You win. I really don't care to deal with your tirades.

I've never made it me against you, in fact it's been the other way around. Your comments where you've taken it upon yourself to relay the "experience [as being] non-pleasurable" for MOST OF THE BOARD because of [batonless relay], would seem to confirm my beliefs. It's not me, it's you - and a few others - who take differing viewpoints as rants or a figurative "Call to arms". I noted in my first sentence that I did not read the book, but I had googled the book and read several reviews including an interview before commenting on quoted portion of the poster's quote. The poster mentioned that they hadn't read the book either, so why no criticism of them?

Anyway, I get it: you (and a few others) don't like me, and you're going to do your best to make my experience non-pleasurable (or implore gh to get rid of me [again?] as one poster is wont to do). There's an easier way for you (and others): "foe" me. It's easy.

1. Click on User Control Panel.
2. Click on the vertical tab labeled "Friends & Foes"
3. Click on the horizontal tab labeled "Foes"
4. Type "batonless relay" into the box
5. Press submit.

After this process, you (and the "most") will not see my comments; you will get a message something like "This post was made by batonless relay who is currently on your ignore list. Display this post." You have a choice.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby Dixon » Wed Aug 07, 2013 3:56 pm

Always an interesting topic. I like to see how an obvious situation is talked around.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby bijanc » Thu Aug 08, 2013 5:12 am

Book has interesting chapters on hemoglobin/sickel cell traits and preponderance of sprinters and wr/db's of West African descent, Kenyan distance runners, nature v. nurture (w/ junior high sports failure and former C-team h.s. middle distance man Jim Ryun as the "nurture" model), and male-female performance disparity.

States that boys and girls national sprint records are about the same @ age 9, but that avg. 14-yr old boy can throw three x farther than a girl, and that of 1,000 men "off the street", 997 will have more upper body strength than a woman.

That said, should the following sports and games have separate gender competitions: skiing (downhill, cc, slalom, jumps)? table tennis? pocket billiards? I can see bowling, due to the difference in average hand size/strength and forearm muscle tone.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby TN1965 » Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:45 am

bijanc wrote:That said, should the following sports and games have separate gender competitions: skiing (downhill, cc, slalom, jumps)? table tennis? pocket billiards? I can see bowling, due to the difference in average hand size/strength and forearm muscle tone.


I don't know about pocket billiards, but there is no way skiing and table tennis can be co-ed. Top men would annihilate top women on any day.

As for Jim Ryun, he is an example of "rapid responder." He started with the C-team, but he moved up quickly by doing the same workouts as his teammates. And Epstein says this is because of his biological set-up. He didn't work harder than others, not smarter than others. His body simply responded far better to the same workout. How could this be not "nature"?

http://www.runnersworld.com/general-int ... ate?page=2

"We're used to thinking that challenge is something that pre-exists any kind of training, and what genetics science is making clear is what's much more constant and probably important is actually your biological set-up to be able to benefit from a particular type of training." 

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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby batonless relay » Thu Aug 08, 2013 9:37 am

TN1965 wrote:
bijanc wrote:That said, should the following sports and games have separate gender competitions: skiing (downhill, cc, slalom, jumps)? table tennis? pocket billiards? I can see bowling, due to the difference in average hand size/strength and forearm muscle tone.


I don't know about pocket billiards, but there is no way skiing and table tennis can be co-ed. Top men would annihilate top women on any day.

As for Jim Ryun, he is an example of "rapid responder." He started with the C-team, but he moved up quickly by doing the same workouts as his teammates. And Epstein says this is because of his biological set-up. He didn't work harder than others, not smarter than others. His body simply responded far better to the same workout. How could this be not "nature"?

http://www.runnersworld.com/general-int ... ate?page=2

"We're used to thinking that challenge is something that pre-exists any kind of training, and what genetics science is making clear is what's much more constant and probably important is actually your biological set-up to be able to benefit from a particular type of training." 


So if the workouts were different and he began to lag behind his previously sluggish teammates then THEY would be "rapid responders"?
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby KDFINE » Thu Aug 08, 2013 10:04 am

Thanks Bambam.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby TN1965 » Thu Aug 08, 2013 11:36 am

batonless relay wrote:So if the workouts were different and he began to lag behind his previously sluggish teammates then THEY would be "rapid responders"?


I suppose that is the case (although I'd rather read the book first before giving any definite answer).

No one is talented in everything. For example, in distance running, some runners respond better to "low volume, high intensity" approach, while others respond better to "high volume, low intensity" approach. If the first type tries a high volume, he/she is likely to get injured. If the second type tries a low volume, he/she is likely to stagnate. A good coach can tell which runner belongs to which type.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby batonless relay » Thu Aug 08, 2013 12:02 pm

TN1965 wrote:
batonless relay wrote:So if the workouts were different and he began to lag behind his previously sluggish teammates then THEY would be "rapid responders"?


I suppose that is the case (although I'd rather read the book first before giving any definite answer).

No one is talented in everything. For example, in distance running, some runners respond better to "low volume, high intensity" approach, while others respond better to "high volume, low intensity" approach. If the first type tries a high volume, he/she is likely to get injured. If the second type tries a low volume, he/she is likely to stagnate. A good coach can tell which runner belongs to which type.

I think there are a lot of good coaches who can't tell which runners belong to which type; I can't imagine it's easy. I think coaches, by and large, get "lucky"; most tend to have a philosophy that's not as flexible as we'd think. Even using Holm, it's possible that he was overloaded and that he could have responded even better with less. I don't say that to be argumentative, it's just that there is a Swedish documentary about how all of Sweden's top athletes became injured (Kluft, Kallur, Thornblad, Olsen and Holm) and they point to some of the methods of the coach - who said, "I wouldn't change a thing".

Here is the video below. To call it excellent would be an understatement
https://player.vimeo.com/video/51345348

Here is a short video (11s) of Holm "hurdling"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVZ3ZcorTF0
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby EpsteinD » Fri Sep 06, 2013 11:47 am

Hi everyone--I just came across this post and wanted to let you know: I'm the author of The Sports Gene, and I'll be doing an AMA on reddit Monday at 7pm ET. I'd love to answer any questions you have about genetics and athleticism then. Hope you can make it!
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby TimRoy » Fri Sep 06, 2013 1:50 pm

Great book, David. A real pleasure. Get started on the sequel.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby 26mi235 » Sat Sep 07, 2013 12:07 pm

B. R. I have much less experience than you, but I remember Jerry Schumacher learning how to adjust when a very good runner coming in who seemed to do pretty well with mileage had trouble handling it as he grew about 6 inches (a lot at that age). Eventually they figured out how to get him enough of the right kind of work and he raced well in college and professionally. Similar teammates could and did handle much more mileage. Learning out how each athlete responds (distance, intensity, needed rest, peaking (what to do, how long to hold, when to back off for the next peak) requires a lot of attention; it is surprising how college coaches can be attuned to some many runners.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby Madd Marine » Sat Sep 07, 2013 3:02 pm

batonless relay wrote:So if the workouts were different and he (Ryun) began to lag behind his previously sluggish teammates then THEY would be "rapid responders"?


Wow, that's disingenuous. People without "it", talent or otherwise, are not going to become great, period. Any sluggish teammates will always remain sluggish in comparison to a world class talent, no matter the training. After a few weeks of any kind of training, Ryun would not have lagged behind anyone on his team. No matter what kind of training all the greats have used, when has anyone responded like Ryun?

As Peter Snell said, Ryun was so great he could survive Timmons's training. Not that Timmons's "guesses" at what to do failed everyone. Ryun's teammate Mike Petterson was something like a 4:11 miler as a senior, same year Ryun was a senior, and helped Ryun push it in the State Meet to break four, his 3:58.3 still the fastest in an all prep race. One wonders what Ryun would have done with "modern" training. It's not only Ryun responding to training, he was born with the make-up to run "fast". If he had been trained better, he would have run faster. His teammates would never have been world class, and likely not have run that much better. World class athletes respond better/differently to training than mere mortals. Speaking about runners, Steve Cram said something along the lines of that in an interview once, stating he felt it didn't matter what kind of training world class runners did in the off-season, as long as they trained.

In the end, sure, it's how the body will respond to certain training, but you still have to have the physiological make-up to be world class. Kenyans have that make-up for middle and long distance running in a higher percentage of their population vs most of the rest of the world. It's all in the genes. Ryun had the right genes, it was not a case of nurture per se. Even the most talented need "nurture", some coaching or help. But if the talent isn't there, hard work only will not get you to the top. Sure, the usual PC clunks will jump in, and try and say there's no doubt Ryun has some sort of American Indian or Kenyan ancestry in his family tree, lol, then rely on numbers that have no basis in fact to prove it. Take a look at the Olympics or the World Championships in different sports. SOME things are decided because only a limited number of people are interested in certain sports. Other sports and events are on the other side, certain groups will dominate because they possess a higher number of individuals with the right genetic make-up. Track and field is one of the latter. There are outliers of all stripes of course, but different events will be dominated by certain groups.

It's likely there are groups with more talent than those who dominate certain events, but they just have no interest in those events or sports. Will they develop that interest? Hopefully we'll see.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby user4 » Sat Sep 07, 2013 4:16 pm

Madd Marine wrote: SOME things are decided because only a limited number of people are interested in certain sports. Other sports and events are on the other side, certain groups will dominate because they possess a higher number of individuals with the right genetic make-up. Track and field is one of the latter. There are outliers of all stripes of course, but different events will be dominated by certain groups.


track and field is certainly in the latter, requiring much more in the way of raw talent. But in the present age I dont see the global participation rates anywhere near the level to sift out a good proportion of the very talented.
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Re: The Sports Gene

Postby Mark_Oneill » Mon Sep 09, 2013 9:08 am

I've never come across it before, but thanks for the heads up I will definitely search it up and have a read
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