Natalie Angier recently wrote a major article in The New York Times proving that the races don't really differ genetically.
Although watching the Olympic track & field competition is guaranteed to shake your faith in Ms. Angier, just repeat to yourself, "Who am I going to believe: The Newspaper of Record or my lying eyes?"
So, for all of you who trust the Times utterly, maybe you should stop reading here. Why don't you go check the TV to make sure you're not missing West Wing? Bye-bye!
Okay, now that we've shed all the PC dweebs, let's get down to the facts. The men's 100-meter dash might be the world's most widely contested sporting event. Although the majority of humans never even try most sports, practically every boy on earth soon finds out whether he has any talent for sprinting. Back in 1896 the Olympic men's 100m final, the race to determine The Fastest Man on Earth, started out as an all-white affair. Increasing equality of opportunity, however, lead to increasing equality of results. By the 1932 Olympics, the six finalists consisted of three whites, two blacks, and an East Asian.
Then, however, equality of opportunity kept on growing and equality of results ... well, vanished. This year, for the fifth consecutive Olympics, the eight men who reached the finals of the Olympic 100m were all of predominantly West African origin. They came from the U.S., Britain, Jamaica, Ghana, Barbados, Trinidad, even St. Kitt's & Nevis, wherever that is. But they were all black.
People of primarily West African descent constitute roughly 7.5% of the world's population. But, beginning with the 1984 Games, forty men have made it to the Olympic finals - and all 40 have been blacks from West Africa or its Diaspora. What is the likelihood of this happening by chance? Here is the probability:
That's a "one" with 44 "zeroes" in front of it.
Ms. Angier might reply that discrimination keeps a black youth out of more desirable professions such as engineering or accounting, forcing him to become the World's Fastest Man and endure all that adulation from Swedish track fans.
But why aren't the races equal at the different races? In other words, why do blacks of West African descent specialize in the sprints rather than other lengths? Why do they rule from 100m to 400m, are competitive at 800m, marginal at 1500m, and then disappear at the longer races?
And if genes don't differ, just social environment, why don't poor blacks end up in the most grueling events? Instead, in America whites and Mexican-Americans dominate the distance events, which require endless roadwork. In contrast, African-Americans monopolize the sprints, which call for the shortest workweek of any major sport.
For example, while preparing to win four gold medals in the Los Angeles Olympics, Carl Lewis worked out an average of eight hours per week (not per day - per week!) Nor does poverty explain the career of the 1996 Olympic 100m gold medallist, the Jamaican-born Canadian Donovan Bailey, who didn't get serious about sprinting until he'd made so much money as a stockbroker that he'd already bought himself a house and a Porsche - for cash.
As tennis great Arthur Ashe observed, "Fast runners are born, not made."
Many years ago, George Orwell warned, "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." Throughout the Olympics, the truth about racial differences will be right in front of your nose.
September 27, 2000