The Science of Olympians

by Michael Purdy
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David Bassett, professor and interim head of the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies, along with Scott Conger, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Boise State University, have developed a course called Physiology of Athletes: Exploring the Limits of Human Performance.

“Olympic athletes are fascinating subjects for research,” said Bassett. “They are not only genetically gifted, but in most cases they’ve spent thousands of hours training for their events. They are pushing the envelope of what’s possible in training and competition.”

Bassett and Conger looked at several case studies of Olympic athletes across a decades-long span of the Summer Olympic Games. They also examined what the Olympics has taught us about environmental studies and new views on aging.Graphic about Olympic athletes

Highlights of their findings include:

• A study conducted at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal found that most of the Olympians surveyed had at least one older sibling. The scientists speculated that trying to keep up with an older brother or sister helped the athletes develop essential motor skills for sport.

• Athletes’ hearts are one of many factors that determine their success. Not only do Olympic athletes have enlarged hearts, but echocardiograph and MRI studies have shown that endurance athletes have hearts with larger chambers and normal wall thicknesses, while powerlifters and
wrestlers have thicker walls in the heart chambers.


Read more about their findings at

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