As demonstrated in this video by Scientific American, elite sprinters have a different motion that average sprinters. This disparity is characterized by their quick striking feet that don’t involve the heel. In order to do this, sprinters lift their knees high enough to make a piston-like movement towards the ground.
When phrased that way, becoming a sprinter sounds easy. Just adjust your running stride to lift your knees higher and build leg muscles until no one can catch you. Unfortunately, your genetics might not let you rise to the top all that easily.
The gene ACTN3, or the “speed gene”, has been linked with faster twitching muscles, therefore causing a quicker sprinting motion. In order to test if the gene physically changed the composition of the muscles for non-athletes that had the gene based on observation and data collection, Researchers studied the muscle fibers through a biopsy test. The subjects were then put under certain tests to study the velocity and power they could demonstrate.
The researchers found that, despite having the speed gene, subjects did not have any difference in viscoelasticity (the ability of the muscle to twitch) compared to people without the gene. However, the subjects with ACTN3 showed greater power and faster overall muscle contraction than subjects without the gene.
So what does all that mean? That study demonstrates how the speed gene is very cool. It does not create any changes in physical appearance or influence a muscles’ viscoelasticity, it just makes the muscles contract faster and with more power than those without it.
When the finding initially came out initially in 2003, according to the Chicago Tribune, the idea of the nurture of the athlete vs the nature of the athlete debate was cleared up. In an attempt to avoid racial stereotypes, people have attacked the idea that the reason that people of African decent find their way on the podium in Olympic sprinting events because of genetics. This inadvertently resulted in the ignoring of scientific data in order to preserve what they perceived to be a respectful outlook.
Research, such as the one attributed by the Tribune, clearly link athletes of African descent with higher concentrations of the speed gene than caucasian or Asian athletes.
This flaw caused by hypersensitivity to anything that differentiates races is similar to the battle against the theory of global warming that we discussed in class. People’s incorrect notion of what is fact compared to what is actual fact has blurred the scientific truth of the findings on global warming just as it has blurred the data on what makes a great sprinter.