David Epstein, Sports Illustrated senior writer and author of the forthcoming book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science Of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, spoke with Outside magazine.
The interviewer notes the book is "secretly an economics and social science book as well as a genetic science one. The 10,000-hours faction believes in nurture over nature. You show the intersection of genes, training, economic incentives, and cultural institutions that create athletes. Nature and nurture together."
Epstein offered a fascinated answer:
Usain Bolt is a great example. He was 6’4” when he was 15 years old and blazing fast. He wanted to play soccer or cricket. What are the chances anyone lets him run track in the U.S.? To me, it’s zero. There’s no way he’s not playing basketball or football. Nowhere but Trinidad, the Bahamas, Barbados, and Jamaica would a guy that’s 6’4”, with blinding speed, be allowed to run track instead of something else. People have asked me, “Should we do genetic screening for the best athletes or at least some sort of measurements?” Yes, measuring kids and trying to fit them into the right sport for their body type absolutely works. That’s why you saw Australia and Great Britain up their medal haul with their talent search programs when they had their Olympics. However, when there’s a sport that’s most popular in an area, you don’t have to do that because you already have the natural sifting program. You don’t have to go hunt for the best football players in America because they’re already going to go play football and then we select them.
Sprinting in Jamaica is like our system here for college football. What are the chances that a really good high school football player will fall through the cracks and not go to college? Pretty small, because people are looking for them and they earn adoration and accolades from performing well. That’s the way it is for youth track in Jamaica. They have shady boosters and everything! I went to a warm up track at Champs and started to ask the coaches about recruiting and how it works and they kept telling me, “We’re not allowed to give refrigerators to their parents.” I’m like, “What?!?” Apparently there was a rash of bribing kids with fridges to get kids to come to their track high schools. In Kenya, there’s no joggers. There’s only people who are running for transportation, people who are absolutely killing themselves in training to be Olympians and pros and people who aren’t running at all. There are no opportunity costs.