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Outside the Lines

The Athlete of the 21st Century

Science to give the human body a makeover

Genetics: Finding the right stuff

Rehab: Knees made easy

Bionics: Calling Steve Austin

Next 100 years: The future is in your hands


Audio chat wrap: Princeton geneticist Lee Silver and Oakland A's strength coach Bob Alejo

Chat wrap: Gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi


Princeton geneticist Lee Silver says genetic testing would identify 80 percent of potential pro athletes.
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Tuesday, June 3
Sports 2010: New insight
By Tom Farrey

The year is 2010.

The sports world looks roughly similar to what it was in 2000. The Saints remain the laughingstock of the NFL, basketball is still looking for "the next Michael Jordan," and the mildly repentant John Rocker continues to field AA batteries with his forehead on each trip to New York.

DNA strand
The building blocks of great athletes are locked within the strands of a person's DNA.
The biggest difference is there's significantly more money to be made in sports. The average salary in the NBA, now a true global media colossus, is $15 million. Old man Tiger Woods made that much by sinking a single putt the other day in a made-for-the-Internet tournament. Even high school sports have dug themselves out of the red, thanks to broadband video that allows busy parents to watch their kids' games over the Web.

We also know a lot more about what constitutes an elite athlete in each sport, and even at each position in those sports. After the Human Genome Project released its findings in 2002, basically identifying the location and properties of all 100,000 genes, sports scientists around the world took that knowledge and began determining which genes show up most often in elite athletes.

We knew a decade ago that Olympic-caliber runners, rowers and cyclists often had a certain configuration of the so-called ACE Gene. But since then we've learned that 93 percent of Bulgarian weightlifters have the so-called "strength gene," that 95 percent of NHL goalies have a gene related to reaction time, and that 98 percent of Chinese divers have a unique cluster related to physical balance. That, and so much more.

This was valuable information! While everyone has known all along that divers need good balance, for instance, it has been hard to figure out whether a kid could be great in the sport until a few years into his life. Now, with genetic tests, parents can train them right out of the womb in their ideal sport, just as Richard Williams (apparently guessing right) once did with Venus, Serena and tennis.

Of course, not everyone wants to raise a pro athlete. In fact, you still have concerns about the use of the genetic profiling. You want your newborn child to choose which sport he plays -- if any. You want him to find his own path in life, just as you did while growing up. You are convinced there are no wrong turns, just interesting adventures.

On the other hand, you hated football as a scrawny kid. How much better would your childhood have been if you had put that time toward golf, a sport you loved and ended up being pretty good at? Had you started earlier, might you even have earned a college scholarship -- or even gone pro? After all, one thing PGA pros have in common is they started playing golf before their teenage years.


Besides, the incentives never have been greater to get your 1-year-old tested. Even college athletes in the big-time sports are being paid now, thanks to a judicial ruling forcing the NCAA to scrap its tattered notion of amateurism. Privacy laws prohibit colleges from requiring a genetic test from athletes (or any other students), but it's becoming standard practice for parents to show coaches their 14-year-old's genetic profile -- all the better to demonstrate the young athlete's raw potential.

Genetic testing -- popular, simple and inexpensive ($5) -- has gone mainstream.

Sports in the Year 2010 | 2050 | 2100

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