Eero Mäntyranta: A Champion Skier with a Unique Genetic Mutation

Alex Auld


April 26, 2023

Eero Mäntyranta was a Finnish cross-country skier who left an indelible mark on the world of winter sports. Throughout his illustrious career, Mäntyranta won multiple Olympic and World Championship medals, earning him a place among the all-time greats. 

However, his exceptional performances weren't solely due to hard work and dedication; a unique genetic mutation played a significant role in shaping his success. This blog will explore Mäntyranta's career and how his genetic mutation contributed to his athletic achievements.

Eero Mäntyranta's Career Highlights

Born on November 20, 1937, Eero Mäntyranta began skiing at a young age in his native Finland. He rose to prominence in the early 1960s, making his first significant impact at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. Mäntyranta won a gold medal in the 4x10 km relay and a silver in the 15 km race. His exceptional skiing skills and powerful performances attracted widespread attention.

Mäntyranta continued to excel throughout the 1960s. At the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, he won two gold medals (15 km and 30 km) and a silver medal (4x10 km relay). Four years later, at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France, he added another gold (4x10 km relay) and a bronze (15 km) to his collection. Besides his Olympic accomplishments, Mäntyranta also secured seven World Championship medals between 1962 and 1970.

The Genetic Mutation: A Natural Advantage

Eero Mäntyranta's remarkable success wasn't solely due to his skill, determination, and training. In the 1990s, scientists discovered that Mäntyranta had a rare genetic mutation that provided him with a natural advantage in endurance sports.

The mutation affects the erythropoietin receptor (EPOR) gene, which plays a crucial role in the production of red blood cells. The EPOR gene encodes for the erythropoietin (EPO) receptor found on the surface of red blood cell precursors. EPO, a hormone produced by the kidneys, binds to these receptors and stimulates the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow.

Mäntyranta's genetic mutation led to an increased sensitivity of his EPO receptors, causing his body to produce an abnormally high number of red blood cells in response to normal EPO levels. As a result, his hematocrit (the percentage of red blood cells in the blood) was significantly higher than average, leading to a 25-50% greater oxygen-carrying capacity compared to the average person.

This increased capacity allowed him to maintain higher energy levels and stave off fatigue during endurance events, giving him a substantial edge over his competitors. The increased oxygen-carrying capacity also facilitated a more efficient delivery of oxygen to his muscles, resulting in improved aerobic respiration and reduced lactic acid buildup. This, in turn, led to a faster recovery rate and the ability to sustain high-intensity efforts for longer durations.

Balancing Talent and Genetics

Eero Mäntyranta's unique genetic mutation undoubtedly played a role in his extraordinary athletic achievements. However, it is essential to recognise that his success wasn't solely due to his genetic advantage. Mäntyranta's unwavering dedication to his sport, countless hours of training, and innate talent were equally important in shaping his legendary career.

Understand Your Own Red Blood Cell Production

While we don’t currently analyse for Mäntyranta's rare genetic mutation at FitnessGenes, our Red Blood Cell Production & Endurance Performance report does look for the more common NFIA-AS2 variant which has also been associated with greater red blood cell availability. 

Carriers of the NFIA-AS2 ‘CC’ genotype have been found to produce a higher number of red blood cells in response to exercise, possibly providing them with endurance performance advantages similar to those enjoyed by Mäntyranta throughout his career. 

Discover your personal Red Blood Cell Production & Endurance Performance trait, along with 145+ additional health and fitness reports, with a FitnessGenes DNA analysis test

Alex Auld

One of FitnessGenes' first full-time employees, Alex re-joined the company in 2021 after completing his MA in Global Communications at the University of London. He now oversees all customer communications, helping to ensure that our members get the most from their results. An amateur triathlete, you can expect to find him in the pool, on the bike, or running laps of his local park most weekends.

Start Unlocking Reports For Free

Create a FitnessGenes account to unlock your lifestyle-based reports for free, each with personalized insights and actions.
No credit card details required.

Get Started For Free