The Olympics are the world's festival of human biodiversity. And the medallists in Sydney largely followed established racial patterns.
In men's track, the most universally-contested, most equal opportunity sport in the world, East Africans dominated the distance races. From 800 meters through the marathon, highlanders from the adjoining countries of Kenya and Ethiopia won 12 of the 18 total medals available. Distance running's other hotspot, the Atlas Mountain countries of Northwest African, Morocco and Algeria, brought home five medals.
A German won the other endurance medal, in the white man's traditional strong suit, the 800 meters. This medium distance race falls between the sweet spots for West African-descended blacks (100 to 400 meters), Kenyans (3,000m to 10,000m) and Ethiopians (5,000m to the marathon). Whites, who tend to be consistently mediocre at all distances, thus often do well at 800m.
In the seven sprints, hurdles, and relay races from 100 to 400m, blacks of Western African origin won 18 medals, led by the U.S. with eight. European whites won one.
(Unfortunately, I don't know the race of the Saudi Arabian silver medallist or the South African bronze medallist in the 400 meters intermediate hurdles. I suspect the Saudi was of African descent because the Persian Gulf states are notoriously sedentary. American reporters during Desert Storm had a bet going over who would be the first to see an Arab lift anything heavier than money. The Saudis traditionally depended upon their native blacks for international sports - slavery wasn't abolished in Saudi Arabia until 1962. Lately, the oil states have taken to importing East Africans and other athletic types to pad their medal totals.)
In women's track, the racial patterns are similar if less clear-cut. The biggest difference is that, due to traditional social expectations, Kenyan women are only just beginning to emerge as world-dominating distance runners. But the success of women from Ethiopia's Southern highland tribes has shown that it's just a matter of time until women from related tribes across the Kenyan border begin winning golds.
In the women's 4x100m and 4x400m sprint relays, teams consisting solely of West African-descended blacks won all medals. Possibly the single most impressive gold medal of this entire Olympics was the decisive victory by the Bahamas (population 270,000 blacks) in the 4x100m relay. They beat Jamaica (home to 10 times as many blacks) and Marion Jones-anchored America (with 120 times as many blacks).
Still, the racial patterns seen in the women's races are more susceptible to steroid doping than in the men's races. Let's be frank. With the exception of rhythmic gymnastics, sports are basically a test of testosterone. Since women on average only produce 1/10th as much of the manly molecule as men do, they get a much bigger bang for their buck from artificial male hormones. That's why doped-to-the-eyeballs East German women were able to dominate women's sprinting, until certain American black women responded in kind in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. In contrast, white men from East Germany were never competitive with African American men no matter how much they juiced themselves.
In general, the lack of world records in Sydney suggests that the new drug testing technology is holding doping to a moderate level. Drugs were a serious distorting factor in he Olympics from 1976 to 1988. Then better testing was instituted - and the Communist drug factories collapsed. Now I suspect that, even if everybody were clean, the 2000 results wouldn't have been all that much different.
Ironically, the more effectively the Olympics test for drugs, the more American sportswriters denounce the Games as "hopelessly tainted" by drugs. In contrast, major league baseball has no PR problem because it makes no effort whatsoever to catch its many obviously-juiced sluggers.
In the national medal totals, the U.S. came in first. Russia, despite all the chaos at home, was an impressive second. For third place, the Chinese edged out the Australians, who benefited from the home field advantage as well as many of the finest ex-Eastern Bloc athletes that money could buy, and the Germans.
The Chinese, though, "failed to make any impact beyond the sports they traditionally dominate," in the words of Scott McDonald of Reuters. "Six sports in which China has been traditionally strong, such as table tennis, diving, badminton, and the new women's weightlifting competition provided 23 of their golds. Only one medal, a gold in the women's 20 km walk, came from athletics and swimming. ... China won all four [women's weightlifting] classes they entered."
The introduction of women's weightlifting is the most ridiculous example of the Olympics' trend toward "gender equality." Drugs corrupt men's weightlifting enough. But the women's version is blatantly a contest to see who has the cleverest sports chemists.
On the other hand, the Chinese were on their best behavior in the higher profile sports of track & field and swimming because they want to win the 2008 Games for Beijing. Thus they busted 28 of their athletes before the Games for doping. And despite having set all sorts of dubious women's running and swimming records in the mid-Nineties, the Chinese only managed a single medal in Sydney - in the geekish event of walking.
The Chinese do extremely well in sports of agility and grace - witness another great performance by diving goddess Fu Ming-xia. But they don't appear competitive with blacks, or even whites, in events demanding size and strength.
Further down the total medal rankings, Cuba came in eighth to lead the poor countries of the world. This reflects both the usual totalitarian ability to mobilize its athletic resources to maximize its haul of medals and also its large number of West African-descended blacks. One thing you have to say for Fidel, though: there's no evidence that he doped his women runners during East Germany's hey-day. If he had, black Cuban women would have won all the medals.
Japan came in 14th, much worse than its population size, wealth, and sports-craziness would suggest. It finished well behind the Netherlands with one-eighth the population. Japan's fundamental problem appears to be the small physical size of its people.
Yet the Japanese have fallen apart even in men's gymnastics, a sport for short people where they once won five team gold medals in a row. The problem may be psychological. An American teaching college in Japan writes,
When Japanese athletes compete in the Olympics they feel they are representing, not only their country, but also their race and all its members. When a Japanese is leading in a race the announcer's voice becomes flushed with emotion. When interviewed after competition, swimmers and judo-ists say they can't remember what happened, so great was their emotion. In fact in the moments leading up to a competition, Japanese seem almost paralyzed by nervousness. They are not competing for themselves, but for their coach, their team, their family, and everyone. If they win, it was not because of their own effort, but because of everyone's support. Their greatest emotion then is relief from the relentless pressure. If they lose, they have let everyone down. They cannot be good sportsmen and congratulate their opponents with a smile because their minds are elsewhere thinking about how they will apologize to their supporters.
Once again, however, the biggest loser in the Olympics was India. For the second straight Games, its one billion people brought home - a single bronze medal.
Indians just don't seem to care about any sports besides cricket. Even in field hockey, a game they ruled through the middle of the 20th Century, they stunk up the place again.
Perhaps Indians are just too cheerful, friendly, and polite to care much about winning at sports. Interestingly, their few sportsmen tend to come from the traditional warrior racial groups like the Sikhs. The British recognized that the Sikhs, along with the East Asian Gurkhas of Nepal, made the finest fighting men in South Asia. Sikhs remain the backbone of independent India's officer corps. Similarly, guys named Singh (i.e. Sikhs) hold about half of India's national track records.
It's long been theorized that militaristic nations should be best at sports, since sport is fundamentally training for and recreation from fighting and hunting. This correlation, however, has proved hard to test since practically every nation on Earth has a pugnacious history. Ancient nations that didn't like war tended to be put to the sword.
The most obvious exceptions: the peoples of India, who have repeatedly been the passive victims of invaders. So perhaps there is something to this old saw after all.
October 02, 2000