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Br J Sports Med 47:545-549 doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092408
  • Review

The genetic basis for elite running performance

Editor's Choice
  1. Malcolm Collins
  1. UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ross Tucker, UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Exercise Science and Sports Medicine unit, Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Boundary Road, Newlands 7725, South Africa; Ross.Tucker{at}mweb.co.za
  • Accepted 2 April 2013

Abstract

The dominance of East African distance runners and sprinters of West African origin invites discussion around the contribution of genetic and lifestyle factors to performance. In this review, we focus on the genetic basis for performance. Previous research associating candidate genes such as ACE and ACTN3 to endurance and sprint performance in Caucasian populations has not been replicated in African populations. This may be influenced by numerous factors, including small sample sizes, comparisons across different ethnic populations and problems identifying appropriate control groups. Conceptually, these failures reveal the complex polygenic nature of physiology and performance, and the erroneous application of a candidate gene approach to more genetically diverse African populations. We argue that research has in fact established a role for genes in performance, and that the frequency, rather than the prevalence, of favourable genetic variants within certain populations may account for the performance dominance in these populations.