MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After watching Venus and Serena Williams battle out a great tennis match Tuesday night, you have to wonder: How can two sisters be so good?

How much is genetics and how much is practice?

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“In terms of an arts analogy, I would say the genes are the canvas, the solid foundation you have, and the environment is the paint,” St. Catherine University exercise physiologist Mark Blegen said. “You have to have the paint and that foundation of the canvas to have a masterpiece.”

He uses the examples of football’s Manning brothers and tennis’ Williams sisters.

“They had that foundation and then they were in an intense environment that allowed that foundation to blossom,” he said.

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Scientists have researched whether there is a “sports gene” for years and have had a hard time pinning down specific ones. Some researchers, though, think they might have discovered a possible link between the ACTN3 gene and muscle performance.

“Depending on who you talk to, there is a certain gene that a high number of these elite sprinters have,” Blegen said. “Not every sprinter has that, but a significant number do.”

When it comes to non-elite athletes, Blegen says genetics can play a part, but it is more likely that practice, time and effort play bigger roles.

“I was a three-sport athlete in high school and went to practice every day after school,” University of St. Thomas women’s basketball captain Katie Stone said.

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As for genes that might predict coordination, strength or endurance, Blegen says there are just too many other factors that play into those traits that people cannot zero in solely on genes.

Heather Brown