Sports and Genes

Posted by Anantha | Posted in , | Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2010

India was hosting the prestigious Hockey World Cup this time. Media publicized the whole event quite well. Hero Honda roped in Sehwag, Priyanka Chopra and Rajyavardhan Rathore to promote Indian hockey. People had forgotten about the rift that had erupted between the Indian hockey players and the FIH just few months back. Sports enthusiasts were ready to keep aside some time of their TV watching for hockey matches. After plundering their arch rival Pakistan, Indian hockey team got back into their groove with miserable losses against Australia, Spain and England. By the end of the tournament, India managed to finish 8th in the tally table. I do not follow Hockey much, have never touched the hockey stick in my entire life, but that is never a criteria for me to not notice that we guys were never a match to the Europeans, South/North Americans or the Australians in this sports. They were quicker on the field, their passes were precise, they had stronger legs. Our guys looked totally illeqipped and underprepared when compared to their counterparts. That reminded me of a discussion I once had with one of my friends about the athletic ability and genetics. On a serious note, this can not be an excuse for the dismal performance of our sportsmen in any sport, this is just a parallel thought on the role the genes could play and how influential they are.

None of us can deny cricket is the only sports Indians seem to have excelled in. At the same time, I do not consider Cricket is an athletic game. Hope you all agree with me. Let me consider some athletic games (case study kinda). In Tennis - though we have soft corners for Paes, Bhupathi and Sania Mirza but let's be frank in accepting that they can not even come close to win a singles grandslams tournaments. Football - we hear the names of Bhutia and Chhetri now and then, but Indian football is ranked 130th in the world currently. That says it all. So in which other sports is our 100 billion populated country good at? When it comes to Track & Field events, it is sad that I can remember only PT Usha and Anju Bobby George - former  won at least an Olympic medal, latter cant boast about the same. Swimming, Gymnastics... I do not know a single Indian who has shone in the international level.

Enough of scratching our heads to get the names of Indian sports personalities. Now try answering these:

Name a white athlete who holds the world record in sprinting (100m / 200m).. It is always a Caribbean or black Americans who have ruled this sport. 

Name a black guy who has won an Olympic medal in swimming (any style, 100m to 400m).. It has always been the reign of white people in water.

Why Chinese gymnasts always dominate that sport...?

Why Kenyans / Ethiopians always win marathons..?

Don't these questions ring a bell in our minds..?

Researchers say, athletic performance is affected by genes (particularly the genes which regulate cardio vascular endurance, lung capacity and muscle fibre type) and there are also more important external factors like motivation, training and equipments, nutrition and environmental influences. Apart from them there are also characteristics that are less influenced by genes such as reaction time, agility and balance. Check this, this and this for more info. Myriad of research papers would have been published at the expense of millions of dollars all over the world, but till date genetic scientists have not been able to pin-point a gene/set of genes that affect the athletic performance of human beings. So it is a secret yet.

Until then, Indian athletes, footballers, tennis players, hockey players have another excuse for their under performance - their 'inferior genes';)

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