I know of nothing that revs me up to set more-challenging fitness goals like watching the Olympics. It is simply amazing what these men and women achieve, and it makes this 50-something work harder. Despite this, I know they have something that most of us don't. What would you say are the most important qualities that make an Olympic athlete? - Don
Wow - an inspiring question! I'll start with by citing three words spoken by Henri Martin Didon, a college principal in Paris who ended a speech with "citius, altius, fortius," which means "swifter, higher, stronger." Pierre de Coubertin, who formed the International Olympic Committee and is recognized as the father of the modern-day Olympics, was so inspired by these words that they became the Olympic motto.
I think we would all agree that the drive to be swifter, higher and stronger is visibly apparent in each and every Olympic competitor. But it takes much more than drive.
Dissecting the skills of an Olympic athlete certainly has the attention of the sports science world and would be invaluable for many reasons - to gain knowledge obviously, but also to unlock the secrets of human physiology and greatly enhance our understanding of the human body.
Scientists, franchise owners and coaches would give anything be able to predict performance based on certain qualities. Imagine how much time, money (multiyear contracts) and energy could be saved if there was a solid list of attributes to assist in talent identification. In fact, since this worldwide competitive sports event began in 1896, sports science has made numerous attempts. They have had some success and have identified the following as significant attributes that appear to improve an athlete's chances of making it to the Olympic Games:
VO2max. Seen as crucial for endurance athletes. VO2max is the maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual.
The ACE gene. One of the first genes identified that is associated with athletic performance. This refers to the Angio-Tensin Converting Enzyme, which is an enzyme involved in fluid balance and has an association with performance. There are many other genes that come into play, but some people who have specific variations of this gene have a higher training response and do better in endurance events.
Being genetically predisposed to a specific sport. Examine different sports and you will soon see the clear prototype (body type) for each. For example, you'll probably never see a 250-pound person excel as an endurance runner or gymnast and, likewise, you won't see a small-framed person make it as a sumo wrestler or power lifter.
Self-selection. Provided an athlete has the right genes and chooses the right sport, he will usually excel. Individuals will be drawn to activities in which they do well and will stop participating in activities they do not.
Environment. Exposure to the appropriate environment to facilitate the exploitation of superior genes. It is recognized that for every elite athlete who makes it to the Olympics, there are countless others who possess the genes for an equally superior athletic performance. However, they are working full-time desk jobs instead of training six days a week. The fact that they were not exposed to the right environment prohibits them from ending up as one of these elite athletes.
Other qualities generally accepted but difficult to measure found in Olympic athletes are: