One group of people will have an advantage over all other competitors at this year’s 2012 London Olympics. This group will have that advantage not because they worked hard to gain it, and not because they figured out some covert, unique method for one-upping the opposition.
They'll have it because it's embedded in their genetic makeup. Because they were born with it.
Who is this exceptional, incomparable group? Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American athletes. And what’s their advantage? Being the descendents of slaves, apparently.
That's the theory being pushed these days by former Olympic gold medalist and current BBC commentator, Michael Johnson. You’ll recall, during his racing days, Johnson racked up four Olympic gold medals and eight World Championship Gold Medals. While that admittedly doesn’t make him an authoritative figure on human biology, it does give him a bit of insight on how real of an advantage "good" genes can offer.
In an interview with Sally Beck of the Daily Mail, Johnson opened up about his personal belief regarding why the descendents of slaves have a genetic predisposition to being better athletes than their counterparts:
“Over the last few years, athletes of Afro- Caribbean and Afro-American descent have dominated athletics finals.
“It’s a fact that hasn’t been discussed openly before. It’s a taboo subject in the States but it is what it is. Why shouldn’t we discuss it?”
So Johnson believes that being descendents of slaves helped those guys. But is his impressive career also at least partially the result of his roots? Yup.
“Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me – I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.”
The idea that athletic ability varies based on the history of one's people isn’t a new one, and it shouldn’t be as controversial as it inevitably will be. You’ll recall, last year Dr. Tyeese Gaines at The Grio addressed the issue of whether or not blacks are naturally more athletic than their counterparts of other races. Her (note: this previously said "his" because I'm dumb) findings:
Through research on his book, Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It, and collaboration with experts on the topic, Entine makes the case that it is less about race and more about environment and ethnicity.
In the book, he explains the athletic features of particular ethnic groups:
People of West-African descent are superior in speed and jumping. With more fast-twitch fibers than other groups, muscles can contract faster and more powerfully. The athletes’ small, efficient lungs lend itself to sprinting as well.
“The best whites and Asians cannot jump as high as elite African-American athletes,” Entine says.
However, these characteristics make athletes of West-African descent less effective at endurance sports, and with their lower body fat, less buoyant when swimming.
On the other hand, East Africans win more than half of the top endurance races, and have more slow-twitch fibers, which contract for longer periods of time, and have lung capacities and a metabolism for longer races.
Whites of Eurasian backgrounds have more upper body strength and dominate in weight lifting and shotput.
And, East Asians excel at diving, ice skating and gymnastics due to an inherent predisposition for flexibility.
Black anthropologist William Montague Cobb suggested in 1939 that black Americans are physically superior due to the difficult physical trials throughout history in order to survive as a population.
And that’s essentially Johnson’s point. He’s saying that, based on their ancestry, descendents of slaves are more inclined to be better athletes than other people.
Again, his statements shouldn’t be all that controversial. They’re not new, they’re not insulting and they’re firmly rooted in at least some sort of logic. Obviously that doesn’t necessarily make them correct – but it makes them as valid as those coming from anybody else who pontificates on this topic.