August 19, 2008

100 meters: Why so Anglophone?

Over the last seven Olympics, from 1984 through 2008, the 56 men's 100m finalists have all been of West African descent. The 56 have consisted of 17 African-Americans, 17 black West Indians, 8 West Africans (all from former British colonies, including one Nigerian running for Portugal), 7 black Britons, 6 black Canadians (1 a Haitian from Quebec), and 1 black Brazilian.


One unanswered question is: why the dominance by Anglophones? I count only 2 of the 56 coming from somewhere where English would not be a national or provincial language.


One theory is that there must be a lot of technical information about how to sprint fast that is passed down in English. Yet, the 100m dash is universally considered less technical than the 110m high hurdles, where 18 of the last 56 finalists have been non-English speakers.


So, here's a theory I concocted in 2004:


While cultural continuity is no doubt important, I've got a new complementary explanation for why Anglophone New World blacks are so dominant in the 100m over Spanish and Portuguese speaking blacks: the Iberian acceptance of mestizaje vs. the more racist English disapproval of miscegenation.

The 100m is a one dimensional sport where one skill is rewarded. For Darwinian reasons that we don't fully understand, this skill evolved to its global peak in West Africa.

Thus, top 100m men tend to be not just kind-of sort-of black in a Barack Obama sort of way, but really African-looking. While there are a number of sports, like the decathlon, where being of mixed race heritage may be of help (e.g., 1980 and 1984 gold medalist Daley Thompson and 1996 gold medalist Dan O'Brien have black fathers and white mothers), the 100m is not one of them. The 100 meter greats, like Carl Lewis, tend to be very black-looking. Frankie Fredericks of Namibia was perhaps the only top 100m man of recent years to look noticeably part-white. (He looks rather like Sir Alec Guinness.)

The slave trade spread West Africans to the New World. But population genetics studies show a sizable difference in what happened next. In the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, black and white genes tended to spread out across the population, but in the English-speaking world they tended to bunch up toward one pole or the other. Sure, there was lots of inter-breeding, but the one-drop rule in the Anglophone world, combined with restrictions on interracial marriage, had a little-understood impact: by defining a half white-half black person as socially black, it drove them toward marrying another black person rather than a white person. Thus, socially defined black people tended to not be more than half-white.

Thus, the first genetic study I've seen to address this suggests that only 10% of self-identified African-Americans are more than 50% white. In contrast, blacks in Mexico were almost completely absorbed into the general population.

Thus, in the English-speaking countries, black genes tend to be more concentrated in particular individuals.

One other population genetic aspect that could be important is that North American blacks tended to come almost solely from West Africa, while South American blacks were drawn from a wider sphere of Africa, going all the way around to East Africa. Lots of Brazilians slaves came from Portugal's East African colony of Mozambique. The weakness of Brazilians as sprinters may have to do with A] The really fast runners go into soccer. and B] Even the blackest Brazilians aren't as West African as Anglophone blacks -- they may have more South African or East African ancestors. (East Africans tend to be best at longer distances from 400m through the marathon, depending on their tribe, but none have ever been world class world-class at 100m or even 200m.) That may help explain the fact that a dark-skinned Brazilian man set the marathon record back in the 1990s.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

49 comments:

headache said...

Athletics is a big deal with the British colonial countries. I come from a German background and my interest in athletics would have been minimal had I not attended an Afrikaans school in South Africa which basically had a British colonial era sports curriculum. Most African countries which have become independent actually took over much more from those hated British than they like to admit. Africanisation only pertained to power; the rest is rather very British, even to the point where you get the ridiculous antics of Mugabe who likes to model himself after the British Queen.

Anyway, another sport very popular amongst former colonies is cricket. Ever wonder why so many non-whites play cricket? Just follow the British rule pattern.

To answer Steve's question: The British had a lavish sports curriculum with athletics featuring high up. The reason of course was that being in charge they had a lot of time on their hands, and apart from partying and playing with the local girls, also loved sports.

halfbreed said...

Interesting theory, and it makes a lot of sense. When you think of it, the Iberian attitude also explains why when you go to Puerto Rico or Brazil you see a whole range of colors, with many people in the cafe au lait range. Your theory also explains why there are so many fast sprinters from Jamaica and a few other Caribbean countries: there simply aren't that many white people to interbreed with there, thus the West African racial stock has remained more or less pure. Most of the the Jamaican sprinters do tend to look as if they
re fresh off the boat. That said, Usain Bolt is so fast that he made the other sprinters in the 100 meter final look, well, white.

halfbreed said...

PS -- Another interesting question is why the Iberians have a more lax attitude towards intermarriage than the British do in the first place. It may have something to do with the Moorish conquest of Spain way back when, which injected a lot of African genes into the Spanish gene pool. Go to Spain and you'll see a lot of people whose features reflect that conquest, people with thicker lips and swarthier skin. The difference between Spain and France in that regard is a lot like the difference between southern and northern Italy: the former have noticeable (if slight) admixture, the latter do not.

John Mansfield said...

Not to take anything away from genetic factors, but this seems like a case of nature and nurture combining perfectly in one narrow locus. There is no people more interested in sport than the English. A friend who took a job there was fascinated to hear track meets on the radio, much like we have baseball games. A British Commonwealth nation with a West African population brings one civilization's traditions together with another region's genetic endowment.

LemmusLemmus said...

I don't think the really fast runners going into soccer in Brazil is a big factor. One, although being able to run fast is an advantage in soccer all other things equal, it is only one of many aspects of the game, so speed is relatively unimportant. (This varies by position.) Two, the Brazilian style of play does not put a lot of emphasis on speed (as compared to the English style, for example). Three, I've watched soccer practically for all of my life and never got the impression that Brazilians (most of whom are brown-skinned) were faster than Western Europeans. The quickest tend to be the Africans, surprise, surprise.

Larkin said...

Frankie Fredericks is not West African in the commonly understood sense of the term - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Africa

I don't believe he is part-white. Africans are just lighter in Southern Africa

Grumpy Old Man said...

As Mel Brooks's Indians put it, "Vos is dos mit shvartzes?"

jody said...

white jumpers go 1 and 3 at high jump, black americans do not even final at long jump or high jump, yet here we are, immediately back to talking about 100 meters. actually, we never stopped, because fawning over black 100 meter runners is the main interest of "track" fans like steve. most other interesting questions about track and field are rarely explored.

it's like some kind of jon entine-esque gay fantasy. and let's not pretend that's not what going on here.

the immediate and unrelenting comparison of west african sprinters to white men, and only white men, as if white men were the only other humans on earth, and they alone needed to be singled out for being inferior, when in fact they're pretty good athletes, and a lot better than the other races on average, well, it's just gay. and i don't mean gay in the "this is retarded" way. it borders on homosexual.

Anonymous said...

Howsabout that Canadian who won Canadian gold (bronze) in women's 100m hurdle finals, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep? Never heard of her before today. Stands five foot four (???), was ranked ninth coming into Olympics, looks mestizo (maybe Portuguese? Just saw interview with parents, hard to say), we don't have many of those in Canada.

"As a Cornhusker, she was the NCAA champion in 2004, running 12.60 to break the U.S. college record held by American hurdles great Gail Devers.
...
With her husband Bronsen Schliep, a former Cornhuskers basketball player, and her longtime coach Anthony McCleary in the Bird's Nest stadium stands Tuesday night, she has lofty goals for the Olympic final."

Cornhusker, eh? They sure make unusually strong offensive linemen down there. OK, makes sense now ;-)

airtommy said...

I've got a new complementary explanation for why Anglophone New World blacks are so dominant in the 100m over Spanish and Portuguese speaking blacks
Do French-speaking blacks not exist in your universe???

Anthony said...

Slate admits biological differences among racial groups, in an article about Jamaican sprinters:

http://www.slate.com/id/2197721/

SKT said...

You might as well ask "Why are Portuguese West African blacks so good at soccer, but American West African blacks so bad at it?"

Lugash said...

I am Lugash.

Lugash's half formed, half baked theory:

While the more African "western hemisphere Africans" do better in the pure speed sports, they need to speak English to go to college. If you listened closely to the biographies of the sprinters, they all seemed to have gone to an American college. That's where the final polish was put on their technique.

I am Lugash.

Anonymous said...

Off topic:

I've been thinking about how blacks spend money on status symbols to attract mates: Cadillacs with rims, gold and diamond jewelry, name brand sneakers, name brand clothing. Perhaps Sailer should recommend that blacks should purchase custom made clothing (think how pimps dress) rather than name brand clothing to show their social status. Custom made clothing can be made within the black community, rather than be imported from abroad. There is no way to avoid status displays - it is an evolutionary trait - , but favoring status displays which provide benefits to the black community should be encouraged.

dearieme said...

"the one-drop rule in the Anglophone world": as far as I know, Steve, it's strictly American. Hell, we've had 3 part-Indian Prime Ministers in Britain.

Anonymous said...

A simpler explanation may be who has easiest access to pharmaceuticals.

Anonymous said...

I think you're missing a whole host of social aspects and pressures that go into the answer. Keep thinking.

Sebastian Flyte said...

What about Anglophone slave-holders positive selection for strength in their slaves? Presumably in both Africa itself initially and subsequent selective breeding in the New World. Labor intensive in north and south for sure, but maybe more selection for pathogen resistance than strength in the south.

Bill said...

Many Brazilian blacks are of East African ancestry.

Brazilian traders were finding it difficult to operate in West Africa because the British navy was intercepting slave ships. The Brazilians made the journey round the Cape of Good Hope, taking slaves from the Zambezi valley and Mozambique.

It seems that the British slave trade focused on a particular sub-racial group of West Africans who may be the world's best sprinters.

Why did speed evolve there? Probably a combination of low body fat due to lack of a need to retain heat, longer limbs for the same reason, and the closer confines of the jungle environment that favor bursts of speed over the prolonged effort needed in the savannah.

testing99 said...

Big hole in your theory Steve --

Anglophone nations might be RICHER than French or Portuguese or Spanish speaking nations with large amounts of West African Blacks.

Richer nations equate to more excess resources devoted to athletic clubs, which means better and WIDER efforts to find fast kids and funnel them into track.

If Countries A and B both have the same potential sprinters in numbers, but A does a much better job at identifying potential sprinters and getting them into Track, Country A will dominate Country B.

The most dominant environmental factor is ... human culture.

rast said...

Comments section of that Slate article are hilarious. One poster managed to cram just about every bogus liberal-creationist canard into just two paragrpahs:

Cognitive differences are predicted by social factors such as socio-economic status rather than genetics. Socio-economic status is related to race in the US. Race APPEARS to be associated with aptitude when in fact it isn't. Whites do not have a special gene that make them more likely to matriculate into Harvard. Besides any two individuals are 99.9% genetically identical -- believe it or not.

There are NO REAL physical differences between blacks and whites -- that's bogus, they belong to the same species. What does it mean to "black" or "white" anyways -- let's define that and then move forward. Black and white are social assignments -- not biological ones.



...and no, it isn't just some istever trolling.

icr said...

"the one-drop rule in the Anglophone world": as far as I know, Steve, it's strictly American. Hell, we've had 3 part-Indian Prime Ministers in Britain.

The one-drop rule applies only to black African ancestry. Charles Curtis, Herbert Hoover's VP, was nearly half American Indian and spent part of his childhood living on the "res".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Curtis
(...)
Curtis was nearly half American Indian in ancestry. His mother, Ellen Pappan, was one-fourth Kaw, one-fourth Osage, one-fourth Pottawatomie and one-fourth French. His father Orren Curtis was of English and northern European ancestry. Curtis was born in Topeka, Kansas, where his first languages were French and Kansa taught by his mother. As a boy on the reservation, he started racing horses. Curtis often won prairie horse races as a jockey.
(...)

Cristy said...

Nearly every event at the Summer and Winter Olympics was invented or codified by the Brits, especially the Victorians.

Football, Cricket, Baseball, Lawn Tennis, Real Tennis, Table Tennis, Rugby, Rounders, Snooker, Cycling, Billiards, Barbilliards, Rowing(some forms), Sailing(some forms), Darts, Golf, Modern Boxing, Badminton, Squash, Fives,
Skiing(some forms anyway), Polo,
Hockey, Ice Skating, Ice Hockey, Bowls, Curling, Ten Pin Bowling, Tossing The Caber, Motor Racing, Mountaineering, Modern Pentatlon, Eventing/Horse Trials, Shove Ha'penny, Coits, etc.

reg C├Žsar said...

The weakness of Brazilians as sprinters may have to do with A] The really fast runners go into soccer.

Do they? Speed and stamina appear to be inversely proportional, and the former is important for perhaps 2 minutes of a soccer game, and the latter for the other 88. Note that all the great black soccer players have white teammates-- there is no great black team in soccer-- because they need someone to play the game for those uneventful 88 minutes.

(However, stamina is not the only important trait in soccer, or East Africans would dominate the world. Teamwork is critical, and northern Europeans are the champions there.)

You could substantially whiten basketball by changing the rules to match soccer-- a court 50 X 100 yards, few substitutions, no time-outs or re-entry, 45-minute halves. Most of today's players would drop like flies.

MQ said...

Steve, I hope that at some point you comment on the American basketball team´s reassertion of black American dominance of world basketball (assuming they keep going as they have been, of course). There´s a lot of racist dumping on American basketball, mostly by people who haven´t kept up with the NBA and don´t appreciate how black Anericans have learned to combine their athletic ability with intense team defense, as well as using it for unprecedented positional flexibility, which allows for a whole new level of improvisational teamwork on the court. All of these developments were in full display as the U.S. team demolished their opponents in pool play. So far, their level of dominance has been comparable to the Dream Team (although unlike that team, this one has no white Americans). But of course their achievement would be much more impressive than the Dream Team, since European and South American countries have moved light-years ahead in basketball ability since 1992.

Anonymous said...

you are a fucking retard

testing99 said...

I'm less than impressed by the idea that innate racial differences account for athletic success or failure in some sports. I *do* think obvious racial differences exist -- the Irish came rather late to booze compared to the Mediterranean peoples, so my Irish ancestors have far more trouble with it than say, Italians or Spaniards. That's an obvious adaptation, as is the European ability to digest milk compared to the Amerindian inability.

The Vikings in North America were appalled that the Indians got sick from milk, while the "Skraelings" were convinced the Vikings were trying to poison them.

But look at Jim Thorpe and the rather significant amount of Amerindian Professional Athletes in the latter half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth. They were dominant for a while in track, football, baseball, bicycle racing, then just disappeared. And yeah, back in the 1890's, track bicycle racing was huge.

In boxing, another "pure" sport that depends on a lot innate ability (pain endurance, endurance/strength balance, etc), at various times, Irish, Jews, Italians, Mexicans, Blacks, and Eastern Europeans have dominated different weight classes and/or the entire sport.

While there are obvious racial differences, I don't think you can factor culture/economics out of it either.

Interracialmatch said...

Interesting theory, and it makes a lot of sense. When you think of it, the Iberian attitude also explains why when you go to Puerto Rico or Brazil you see a whole range of colors, with many people in the cafe au lait range. I found there are so many interracial peopeo found their match at a Blackwhitemeet.com and posted their success story there.

Anonymous said...

If West African genes are so great, why doesn't Nigeria with 120 million West Africans do better than Jamaica with 2.5 West Africans? No one has come up with a plausible explanation for this.

Also, all of the "Canadian" and "British" blacks were Caribbean, mostly Jamaican.

Peter said...

Last weekend I was watching part of a men's (non-beach) volleyball game between the United States and (IIRC) Bulgaria. It surprised me that none of the U.S. players were black, considering that the physical skills required to play Olympic-caliber volleyball are probably quite similar to those of basketball.

Anonymous said...

What a long chain of nonsense. You seriously think you can identify genetic history by who 'looks black' to you?

To the extent any of them are of 'African' decent (and who isn't? what does that mean? in the last X generations?), how the heck would you know who is from West and who is from some other part of Africa? Is it in their official Olympic bios?

What distinguishes your theory from the Flying Spaghetti Monster? I'll try to help: You need publicly verifiable proof, not random nonsense like "Even the blackest Brazilians aren't as West African as Anglophone blacks -- they may have more South African or East African ancestors". And maybe his noodly appendage made it so.

Anonymous said...

Once Steve said that if the offsides rule were eliminated, blacks would do better at soccer because speed would matter more. What? The exact opposite is true. The offsides rule allows a faster striker to pass a slower defender to get the ball. If there were no offsides rule, strikers would just stand by the goal the whole match and defenders would stand right next to them, making speed much less important.

Jamaicans, who show the greatest prowess for sprinting, largely came from what is modern day Ghana.

Also, most Brazilian blacks came from Angola in SW Africa and the Congo in Central Africa. Some American blacks came from these places too. A minority came from SE Africa. Like Congolese and Angolans, SE Africans are Bantu people of ultimately West African origin. They spread south and largely replaced the indigenous people of Southern Africa. They are not closely related to the East African ethnic groups who do o well at distance running.

Bill said...

I *do* think obvious racial differences exist -- the Irish came rather late to booze compared to the Mediterranean peoples, so my Irish ancestors have far more trouble with it than say, Italians or Spaniards.

testing99


Actually, I think the Irish are adapted to booze, but their adaptation runs more along the lines of tolerance than aversion.

The Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews, for example, have a high incidence of missense polymorphism that encodes the enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2). Antabuse causes the same uncomfortable reaction to booze.

Irish, and some other western Europeans, seem to have an otherworldly capacity for ethanol consumption. I have seen it first-hand, and have never observed it in other populations.

Mark said...

"the one-drop rule in the Anglophone world": as far as I know, Steve, it's strictly American. Hell, we've had 3 part-Indian Prime Ministers in Britain.

Name all three. I've only found one - Jenkinson, who was 1/8th Indian. And I'm fairly certain the USA has had a few "part-Indian" presidents - in our case feathers, not dots.

Aside from that, there's a big difference between Indians, who are Caucasian (at least the upper castes), and African blacks; and British prime ministers also aren't subject to popular election.

So far, their level of dominance has been comparable to the Dream Team (although unlike that team, this one has no white Americans).

Soooo...when are we going to start hearing about basketball diversity? D'ya suppose Pat Buchanan or Tom Tancredo or Steve Sailer can get that position at the NBA, and get a salary for the stuff they already do anyway?

Last weekend I was watching part of a men's (non-beach) volleyball game between the United States and (IIRC) Bulgaria. It surprised me that none of the U.S. players were black

Are black men just completely sucked up by basketball, then? I was watching the women's volleyball team and only 1.5 of the players on the court were white (Logan Tom, who is 1/2 Chinese, and some other girl).

dearieme said...

@ Mark, Jenkinson plus the Pitts, father and son.

Peter Frost said...

There is a more important reason why Latin American blacks tend to have less African ancestry. Natural increase was negative among slaves in Latin America (because it was cheaper to import them than to let them reproduce). It was positive only among free blacks, who were often the mulatto offspring of slaveowners. When Brazil abolished slavery, the state of Bahia went from being predominantly black to predominantly mixed-race in the space of a generation. Most of the slaves died off without leaving any descendants.

In the English colonies, and especially in the southern U.S., natural increase tended to be positive because slaves were more expensive than in Latin America.

Anonymous said...

miscegenation laws were not really a consequence of racism. These laws were passed to keep the poor whites from uniting with the blacks against the rich, who were mostly white. The rich whites (and the upper class whites who voted them into office (remember, most whites could not vote in those days--property requirements) were afraid of the power represented by the union of blacks and poor whites, who were actually indentured slaves themselves or former or runaway indentured slaves. Witness the Bacon Rebellion where poor whites and blacks united to burn Jamestown to the ground.

You see, the divide et impera maxim was used most artfully by the north american colonial elite,and not used at all in most of the other colonies. THe skin color caste created over 300 years ago by the colonial elite is still in existence today, albeit in shreds (ask me and I will tell you more about that later).

-cryofan

qmaxerv said...

"Last weekend I was watching part of a men's (non-beach) volleyball game between the United States and (IIRC) Bulgaria. It surprised me that none of the U.S. players were black"

Well, in volleyball, the speed/cutting advantage that west African blacks have over whites is not useful. Also, whites have a much higher tolerance of appearing uncool, a needed trait in men's volleyball.

Concerned said...

Usain Bolt just ran 200M in 19.3 seconds. Awesome.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/olympics/2008/08/track_flash_bolt_wins_200_in_w.html?hpid=topnews

InternetFred said...

Could generations of slavery have changed the genetic makeup? Only the fast survived?

Or possibly escaping from predatory animals in parts of Africa?

Going the other way, could media such as TV have influenced blacks to try harder in sprinting?

And what are the chances it's just a statistical fluke?

InternetFred said...

If there is a genetic difference it would show up as a faster average for the populations as a whole, rather than just comparing the fastest of one to the fastest of the other.

LSD on LDS said...

Volleyball is not really culturally friendly to black american males. plus, if you don't know the technique it can be very frustrating and boring to play. Plus, Volleyball can have very complex offenses and strategic situations.

Mr Steve said...

"(No) East Africans ... have ever been world class world-class at 100m or even 200m."
One East African in the 200m final. Is that not world-class enough for you? Do your research. These Olympic posts have been your sloppiest for a while.

Anonymous said...

Why no Haitian sprinters? Most Haitians are coal black and of 100% West African origin. They are blacker and more numerous than Jamaicans.

Concerned said...

Wariner lost. Boo hoo. He slowed to a walk when he saw that Merritt had beaten him. Will you criticize him for being a sour-grapes loser as you criticized Bolt for being a grandstander?

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/beijing_olympics/story/0,27313,24218955-5016798,00.html

Anonymous said...

Since Mr Sailer likes using stats it would be nice to see several different stats (or whatever he can find close to a "stat") between United States and Brazil.For example how long do they train,how much does the state pay for training ectect.

interesting
http://digg.com/olympics/Michael_Phelps_Great_Skill_or_Swimwear_Technology

Roy said...

I love how some of the posters think social factors are particularly relevant here. This is a simple sprint Steve is writing about, not gymnastics. There is probably no sport on earth that relies less on technique than sprinting.

Bolt was a prodigy from his early teen years, and broke the 100 meter world record in his fourth race. He didn't need a lifetime of special training. What he needed was what he had. . . quite possibly the best set of genes in human history for sprinting.

Why Jamaicans are better than other west Africans is something no one knows right now. But it is a virtual certainty that the cause will be nature and not nurture.

If someone can come up with a viable "nurture" explanation as to how the least experienced sprinter in that race was able to run a 9.69 while showboating for the last 15 meters. . . well, I'd love to read it.

Anonymous said...

Jamaica has a very well developed system of coaches and training facilities all over the island. Usain isn't inexperienced; he just didn't have INTERNATIONAL experience. They have a natural edge that is amplified by a national system. You don't just walk out the womb with the right set of genes and become the best sprinter. You have to work at it, just like anything else.

Anonymous said...

If You want to talk about not running but how to stand and fight try me. Serb