On Friday, USA's Justin Gatlin broke the world record for the 100m sprint, shaving 0.01 seconds off Asafa Powell's 2005 record with a time 9.76 seconds. More noteworthy though, was the time of the man who came second, Nigeria's Olusoji Fasuba. He clocked in at 9.84 seconds, which equals the fastest ever second place, but which also puts him in the top 10 times of all time. At the time I posted this, the website hadn't been updated (waiting for ratification), but my calculation puts him at eighth fastest time. Lest we forget, Fasuba also came second behind Jamaica's Asafa Powell in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
At +1.7 m/s, the wind in Doha was obviously more favourable than in Melbourne, when it was +0.9 ms/s. What's wonderful is that Fasuba is in the mix, coming second behind two sprinters who look set to play world record ping pong over the next few years. Sadly, he might end up like Frankie Fredericks, who has four silver olympic medals, but no gold medals. Something else to note from that race, was the presence of Uchenna Emedolu, and Francis Obikwelu (now running for Portugal), meaning that the race was made up Nigeria (three), USA (four), and the rest - one Canadian.
This reminded me of Jon Entine's book, Taboo (read extract), which caused a bit of a furore. Basically, he was saying that black people, in the form of sprinters, middle distance, and long distance runners, dominate athletics because of their genes. I think his research said that out of all the top 200 times were by black athletes, and possibly most, have been of West African origin. If you take the routes of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, this makes sense, but could get a bit blurry when you include the fewer numbers taken from the central to southern African coasts. Personally, I can actually only think of Fredericks (Namibian) who is explicitly not from West Africa.
The argument of genes being responsible for athletic prowess worries me. Genetics have been used by eugenicists such as Hitler's human-experimenter-in-chief, Josef Mengele, to justify ethnic cleansing. Racist theories have used genes to proclaim that white people are more intelligent than white people, and some say that yellow skinned people (Chinese, Asian etc) are smarter than white people. The hypocrisy of these positions is that many black people are prepared to accept the argument about brawn, but not the other about brain. Many white people are prepared to accept the argument about brain, but sometimes also accept the brawn argument. Presumably, in a world where one can order their food on the internet instead of having to go out hunting for it, physical prowess counts for nothing. They are happy to relegate that attribute to some darker skinned people from the "dark continent".
It is impossible to accept one without the other, so I reject both. There might be specific instances where the physical make-up of a human body determines their athletic ability. But it is interesting to note that while blacks might sprint off in the the distance, whites also swim off in the distance. There have been black medal winners, but they are just as rare as white runners. And as with sprinting, nuture factors should be taken into account. Many more black people will see an athletics career as a way out of poverty, and will possibly make more of an effort in the sport. They will have more role models than they do in other spheres of life, and are likely to think that a career in track and field is a viable one. This is likely to be different with swimming, where financial security matters. Suburbia is filled with pools, and black people are more unlikely to live in suburbia. West Africans are also less likely to be swimming, unless in some obscure riverine village.
There are some rogue athletes breaking the mould. When USA's Jeremy Wariner won the the gold medal in Athens, he was the first white man to win the 400m Olympic final since Moscow '80. In the same Athens Olympics, China's Liu Xiang won the gold, equalling Colin Jackson's 11 year old record. If you think that was a drug induced fluke, he came second in last year's World Championships, but clocked the same time as the eventual winner, Ladji Doucoure. In Athens, Malia Metella won the silver medal in the 1,500 m freestyle, and at the Sydney Olympics, Anthony Ervin won gold in the 50m freestlye (a sprint of sorts). The point is that in both athletics and swimming, there are a few athletes running and swimming against the racial grain. In a perfect world where man would have to run and swim to establish physical prowess, it seems that blacks and whites would balance each other out.
It has already been established that statistics used to claim that African Americans are less intelligent are skewed. The tests are invariably culturally biased, which renders them pointless. In the UK for example, one cannot say that black children perform badly in school, because the underperforming group has been narrowed down to boys of Caribbean origin. These Caribbean boys come from the same gene pool as Caribbean girls and other West Africans, but their performances are different. This makes the question one of nuture, rather than nature.
I can rabbit on about nature and nuture, and their balance, but it's a huge argument. Even the generous folk at blogger.com wouldn't give me the space needed to do the subject justice. Recommended reading: Race and Sport, and Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, review in the Guardian, and the New Yorker.