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Outside the Lines

The Athlete of the 21st Century

Science to give the human body a makeover

Genetics: Finding the right stuff

Rehab: Knees made easy

Bionics: Calling Steve Austin

Next 100 years: The future is in your hands


Audio chat wrap: Princeton geneticist Lee Silver and Oakland A's strength coach Bob Alejo

Chat wrap: Gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi


Silver says that in the future natural athletes won't be able to compete with genetically enhanced athletes.
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Tuesday, June 3
Sports 2100: Sega games
By Tom Farrey

The year is 2100.

The sports world has changed dramatically since the turn of the millennium, at least as much as it had changed from 1900 to 2000. Actual games now resemble the action idealized in video games of a century earlier -- which at the time people thought was just imaginative fun. Little did anyone realize what would happen when imagination met science.

Football players in huddle
In the future, will kids without special athletic genes be discouraged from playing sports?
Humans now run marathons in less than an hour, due to advances in bionics that produce legs that churn faster than any ordinary human ever could. Of course, only the disabled use these devices -- only the most masochistic human would cut off his own legs to get these machines. But it has become a fantastic spectacle to the viewing public, especially since the legs look real to the human eye.

The average NBA player stands 7 feet 6, and the average NFL player weighs 330 pounds, thanks to genetic engineering that has allowed parents to manipulate the physical characteristics of their children while those children still are single-cell embryos. Some players now even benefit from having selected genes of other animals, such as jaguars, just as researchers in 1973 successfully placed a toad gene into bacteria.

These developments, of course, forced changes in sports. The NBA finally raised its baskets. The NFL pushed kickoffs back to the goal line, to make sure some kicks would be returned. Tennis raised its nets to counter the power of players with 180-mph serves.

One thing we have learned over the past 100 years is that athletic success in many sports is far more complex than some once thought. It's not just a single gene that once allowed Jason Kidd to dribble down court and quickly analyze the abilities of his teammates on the wing, the defenders in front of them, the time on the clock, the score of the game and the collective psychology of the moment -- and then, upon making a snap decision, have his brain talk to his muscles in a way that allowed him to pass the ball to his teammate in just the right spot.

As someone from a long line of decent recreational athletes who have resisted most of the options presented by science, you take heart in the fact that it's hard to engineer athletic success. On the other hand, there's really no one like you in professional sports, and even youth sports are dominated by kids with altered genomes.


You live in a society that views the human body the same way race fans a hundred years ago viewed Formula One racing: The goal is to build the best vessel possible, using the latest proven technology. Sports, like life today, is not like the old democratic NASCAR ethic, in which every driver, in theory, was given an equal chance to win because of restrictive rules that kept them from souping up their individual cars.

You and your spouse have talked about starting a family. You want to give your unconceived children a chance, whether in sports or in school. If you lived in the above environment, which of the options would you consider using either on yourself or your children? (Choose as many answers in the poll as you'd like).

Sports in the Year 2010 | 2050 | 2100

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