July 30, 2012
Genetically Equal Olympic Athletes?

Since super athletes have genes that make them far more able to compete some argue that sporting competitions are just elaborate games aimed at identifying who has the best genetic sequences. Great sporting competitions, whether professional or amateur, end up turning into elaborate mechanisms for filtering for the most genetically well endowed. Falling genetic sequencing costs promise to take away the need for sporting competitions for this purpose. Lore Sjöberg argues that in order to make great athletic contests more a measure of training effort and training program quality the various countries of the world should start out with genetically identical clones.

Why not level the genetic playing field?

Here’s the plan: We use genetic engineering to create a human being who is genetically average in every way, clone him — or her, we can flip a coin — and issue one Average Athlete Baby to each country to raise as they choose. Then, 18 years later, every country brings their Average Athlete Adult to whichever world-class city hasn’t suffered enough, and all the AAAs compete. In every event. They all must run a sprint, and a marathon, and shoot arrows and wrestle each other and do whatever “dressage” is. (I don’t know, but it sounds even kinkier than clone wrestling.)

I come down on the opposite side of the athletic doping debate: Why not legitimize both the natural genetic and biotechnological competitions in sports? Potential athletes should be genetically screened for the capacity to compete.Those with poorer genetic endowments should be free to seek gene therapies that will enhance their bodies to the point where they can compete with the naturally genetically great athletes.

Many major sporting organizations such as the Olympics, to keep out those using drugs to boost performance. Well, time to turn our backs on those boring natural athletic competitions. We should instead have sporting events dedicated to those who use athletic doping drugs, gene therapy, and cell therapy. Sports can push the biotechnological envelope and, in doing so, create medically useful innovations for the rest of us.

For example, most people reading this are on a declining slope for the amount of lean muscle mass in their body. This phenomenon, known as sarcopenia, starts at around age 25. Drugs, gene therapies, and cell therapies developed to boost muscle mass and extend an athlete's performance into their 30s and 40s could potentially also help the old frail who have very little muscle mass left.

Car racers have innovated quite a bit to enhance the performance of cars. By the same token, those who race with their bodies could do the same for biotechnology and human health.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 July 30 10:14 PM  Bodies Perfected Athletics

Alvin said at July 31, 2012 4:43 AM:

Reads like the summary of a good movie. In reality, human rights overides the need to entertain the masses.

Faruq said at July 31, 2012 5:42 AM:

kicked out of los angeles. i'm back good old london town. america couldn;'t handle my superfluous talent. anyone wanna treat me to a hedonsitic night of cocaine and beer? please email me. miss america a lot,espeically my peeps in santa monica (best city in california by a mile).

David A. Young said at July 31, 2012 9:00 AM:

Alvin -- I couldn't agree more. It's the most basic of Human rights for me to be able to enhance my physical and mental abilities to the greatest extent possible by whatever means are availabe, including genetic engineering. Thanks for your support!

solaris said at July 31, 2012 5:43 PM:

>>"We should instead have sporting events dedicated to those who use athletic doping drugs, gene therapy, and cell therapy."

While that might be an interesting event, it would not be an interesting *sporting* event. You might call it a "scientific event". People who make this suggestion never seem to grasp the concept of sports, perhaps because they themselves tend not to engage in them.

Randall Parker said at July 31, 2012 10:48 PM:


Er, some very doped athletes have accomplished great athletic feats and become famous and widely praised for their accomplishments. Keeping up on any investigation into doping? Did he compete in a sporting event?

Mark M. said at August 1, 2012 6:29 PM:

Didn't Saturday Night Live cover this?

Seriously, though. Malcolm Gladwell had a book about how important training is (10,000hrs of training).

Tom said at August 1, 2012 6:29 PM:

You know, there was a short Sci-Fi story, "The Mickey Mouse Olympics," that explored this idea. The story had the US and the Soviet Union (hey, this was published in 1979) submit genetically modified athletes to the Olympic Games. It featured wrestlers who looked like pyramids, swimmers apparently without any bone structure, and a boxer with his brain in his posterior. It also had a humorous ending - both superpowers ended up finishing near last place due to the Olympic Committee upholding numerous protests that each country raised against the other.

Darryl Boyd said at August 1, 2012 6:52 PM:

Sort of a biological IROC. About as interesting as the real IROC.

gunnar myrdal said at August 1, 2012 6:54 PM:

The solution is contained in Vonnegut's novel, Harrison Bergeron.

ZZMike said at August 1, 2012 7:14 PM:

Brilliant idea. Then, we'll have tennis matches with volleys that last 3 hours (ending when the ball or the rackets break down). Two weight-lifters lifting their max of 207.396 kilograms. Five runners crossing the finish line at precisely the same time, ......

"Many major sporting organizations such as the Olympics, to keep out those using drugs to boost performance."

Seems like there should be an extra word in there somewhere.

Still, we could take that a step further. Why stop at pharmacological enhancement? It's time for bionics to take hold (though it might be hard to keep with the "identical" part). We already see the double-amputee runner, with bionic legs and feet.

gunnar: good catch. That's this idea taken to it's opposite extreme.

steven_pei said at August 2, 2012 4:26 AM:

Is enhancement here already?

1. Chinese swimmer who swam faster then the male for a certain part of her race to come in first? She has either very good drugs (undetectable) or very good genes.

2. Watch the track. South African is competing in a sprint with no legs.

solaris said at August 2, 2012 1:31 PM:

>"some very doped athletes have accomplished great athletic feats and become famous and widely praised for their accomplishments"

Then why does the headline to your link say "Lance Armstrong banned from triathlons amid fresh drug-doping charges ...and could lose all seven of his Tour de France titles if found guilty"?

>"Did he compete in a sporting event?'

He did compete in a sporting event. It does not follow that everything which occurs at a sporting event is sporting. Did he compete in a sporting fashion? That's what the doping investigation will answer.

solaris said at August 2, 2012 1:55 PM:

In the sort of Olympics which Randall imagines, who should get the gold medal: Bill, who threw the javelin a mile and a half, or the genetic and mechanical engineers who built Bill's body? I think it's pretty obvious that the answer is the latter group of people.

This is why I say that such a event would be a scientific event and not a sporting one. The stars would be the scientists and not the "athletes".

I think Randall also imagines that the point of sport is the spectacle. That the throwing of the javelin a mile-and-a-half is an end in itself, THE end in itself, regardless of how it is accomplished. This shows a lack of appreciation for what sport is and isn't.

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