Sports, race, and the taboo…

Moments before Jamaica’s 1, 2, 3 in the Men’s 200m final, the BBC ran a segment on race, genetics, and the taboo that is the fact that black athletes dominate athletics.

“Only one white sprinter has ran under 10 secs…”

The segment itself lasted little more than 5 mins, and in the grand tradition of the Beeb it was balanced, erring on the side of simplistic. They score points for being bold and highlighting a topic that can be contentious. But the science they depicted in it, obviously for such a short segment, didn’t portray the full story — and came off as slightly sinister (with eugenics as the topic perhaps that was unavoidable).

For a topic like this it would be hard not to cite Darwin. Indeed, producers at the Beeb mentioned “survivial of the fittest” right out of the gate. And in this context perhaps a phrase that could end up being confusing from its original metaphorical meaning.

It’s hard to tell what sort of reaction the segment caused. Twitter is never a good barometer for things like these. Equal parts moral indignation and support.

All the elite athletes can trace their ancestry back to West Africa… that is, back to slaves, said the BBC segment. But how true is that?

The Daily Beast have an article on the same subject… going further into the taboo and not just looking at elite athletes over short distances. The piece itself is much more nuanced. Ending with the overrall sense that there are no easy answers to this. No matter how clear the genetics and science of population genetics seem, it is never truly the whole story.

It’s in their culture, say many social scientists. Kenyans dominate distance races because they “naturally trained” as children—by running back and forth to school, for example. “That’s just silly,” Kenyan-born Wilson Kipketer told me. Kipketer currently holds eight of the 17 all-time fastest 800m times, a middle-distance track event. “I lived right next door to school,” he laughed, dismissing cookie-cutter explanations. “I walked, nice and slow.”

The “nurture versus nature” debate will no doubt continue, and hopefully with a lot less taboo.

Image — source

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3 Responses to “Sports, race, and the taboo…”


  1. 1 Sid Dunnebacke August 11, 2012 at 18:43

    I’d heard about that BBC piece – perhaps on twitter – and would like to catch it in full. NBC’s olympics coverage wouldn’t even think to include a thoughtful (I’m assuming it was anyway) piece like that.

  2. 2 search engine optimization st louis July 19, 2013 at 02:32

    Will there be an RSS feed that we can sign up for on
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  1. 1 Olympics Recap: Race, Gender, & Genetics « Amasian Science Trackback on August 18, 2012 at 02:30
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