5 super sports stars - genetically designed to win?

  1. Sir Bradley Wiggins
    1. Riding 2,200 miles in three weeks isn’t for the faint-hearted… but thankfully the first British winner of the epic Tour de France cycling race has a bigger heart than the average person. Specifically, Wiggins has a larger left ventricle, which is in charge of pushing out oxygen-filled blood to the rest of the body. More blood to the body = better endurance to tackle cycling long distances at high altitudes with steep hills. And no matter how much you trained, you couldn’t enlarge your heart to match Wiggins’ - so does that count as a genetic superpower?
  2. Olga Kotelko
    1. You won’t have heard Kotelko’s name at the Olympics because she didn’t begin her athletic career until she was 77! But she certainly made up for lost time racking up a mind-blowing 750 gold medals and 30 world records in competitions for her age group. In 2014 she became the oldest recorded female indoor sprinter, high jumper, long jumper and triple jumper at the World Masters Athletics Championships - just a few months before she finally died, aged 95. She put her success down to simple attitude and state of mind, but a load of tests revealed that her muscles didn’t show the kind of wear-and-tear you’d expect to see in a woman of her age - so surely there must have been some kind of physical superpower at work?
  3. Usain Bolt
    1. This man runs so fast he had time to turn and grin for a photo mid-race at the Rio Olympics. But how did he manage that? Well, the Lightning Bolt is blessed with the ACTN3 gene (often nicknamed the ‘sprinting gene’) which causes your muscles to twitch in a way that makes you a faster runner. Interestingly, the ACTN3 gene is more likely to be found in people of Jamaican descent than any other nationality. Although he’s combined his genetic advantage with hours and hours of training, there’s no doubt that his genetic mutation has helped him to become a super-sportsman. But is he a superhuman?
  4. Eero Mäntyranta
    1. Back in the 1960s, Mäntyranta was a Finnish cross-country skier who won gold medals in the Winter Olympics. But at first it looked like his wins were in jeopardy, as he was found to have abnormally high levels of the protein haemoglobin in his red blood cells - which is usually a sign of drug-taking. Athletes want high haemoglobin levels as that helps them to carry more oxygen, meaning they can exercise and compete for longer before getting tired. But Mäntyranta was tested and no drugs were found in his system - in fact, it was discovered that his high haemoglobin levels were down to a genetic mutation. But does that make him super - or just lucky?
  5. Michael Phelps
    1. It seems that Michael ‘The Flying Fish’ Phelps was literally made for the water! Where most of us have a ‘wingspan’ (the distance from fingertip to fingertip) that’s about the same as our overall height, Phelps’ wingspan is three inches more than his height. This means his swimming strokes are much more powerful than the average person. He also has a long body but quite short legs, so he can kick harder and move faster in the water. Plus it’s been proven that he can recover super quickly after a race because his body produces 50% less cramp-inducing lactic acid than his rivals. He’s a biomechanical marvel - but is he a superhuman?