Summary: The Sports Gene

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1.

The other great doping pariah is Lance Armstrong. He apparently removed large quantities of his own blood and then re-infused himself before competition, in order to boost the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in his system. Armstrong wanted to be like Eero Mäntyranta. He wanted to match, through his own efforts, what some very lucky people already do naturally and legally. Before we condemn him, though, shouldn’t we have to come up with a good reason that one man is allowed to have lots of red blood cells and another man is not?
“I’ve always said you could have hooked us up to the best lie detectors on the planet and asked us if we were cheating, and we’d have passed,” Lance Armstrong’s former teammate Tyler Hamilton writes in his autobiography, “The Secret Race” (co-written with Daniel Coyle; Bantam). “Not because we were delusional—we knew we were breaking the rules—but because we didn’t think of it as cheating. It felt fair to break the rules.”

3.

The Secret Race” deserves to be read alongside “The Sports Gene,” because it describes the flip side of the question that Epstein explores. What if you aren’t Eero Mäntyranta?

Hamilton was a skier who came late to
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It refers to the percentage of the body’s blood that is made up of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The higher the hematocrit, the more endurance you have. (Mäntyranta had a very high hematocrit.) The paradox of endurance sports is that an athlete can never work as hard as he wants, because if he pushes himself too far his hematocrit will fall. Hamilton had a natural hematocrit of forty-two per cent—which is on the low end of normal. By the third week of the Tour de France, he would be at thirty-six per cent, which meant a six-per-cent decrease in his power—in the force he could apply to his pedals. In a sport where power differentials of a tenth of a per cent can be decisive, this “qualifies as a deal

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