The fastest white man in history.
July 28, 2010 6:00 AM   Subscribe

The first European who is not of African descent to run 100 metres in less than 10 seconds.

When Christophe Lemaître ran 9.98sec at the French national championships this month, the headlines read:

First white man to break the 10-second barrier.

"By running 100 metres in 9.98sec Friday 19-year old French sprinter Christophe Lemaître not only set a national record, he became the first person genetically of European origin to officially cover the distance in less than 10 seconds"*

Lemaître's achievement is indeed remarkable:

'Before today, there had been 446 legal sub-10-second performances in the men’s 100m; all of them achieved by 69 different sprinters of African-Caribbean descent and one of Aborigine descent. Lemaître has become the 62nd fastest athlete of all time with his performance of 9.98 at the French Championships.'

But the discussion of race has sparked controversy in France and elsewhere. Atlhetic blogs (one example) have been filled with discussions of racism. Some pointing to a centre of gravity theory for dominance of black sprinters and white swimmers.

Lemaître has distanced himself from the controversy. "Talking about white sprinters, I find this absurd," he said. "This story is too much, I don't like it. I had a good race, I broke the record, but there is not much more to say. I did what I had to do, that's it."

FYI: The current 100m outdoor world record is held by Usain Bolt - 9,58sec.

*There is some dissent. f you really want to get picky, Marian Woronin of Poland’s personal best was 9.992.
posted by three blind mice (103 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's one fast honky.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:06 AM on July 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


All Europeans are of African descent.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:11 AM on July 28, 2010 [73 favorites]


The French are genetically adapted to running away from invading Germans.
posted by XMLicious at 6:11 AM on July 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


He's fast, but he pales in comparison to Bolt.
posted by pracowity at 6:15 AM on July 28, 2010 [23 favorites]


This brings up an interesting conundrum that pretty much all non-supremacist white people deal with: when does it become okay to be proud of someone's accomplishment when their white-ness is a major component? This guy's record exist specifically because of his (recent) origin as not-African. It has nothing to do with nationality or culture -- although I'm sure the French are plenty proud -- simply his status as a non-minority. It's the inverse of the racist implications of "well look at how well he did even though he's black." Does being proud of him for being white lump one in with the supremacists who share the sentiment because White People Are The Best?

There was a great New Yorker article on the social construction of whiteness a bit back which everyone who has some weird, unresolvable mixed feelings about something like this ought to read.
posted by griphus at 6:15 AM on July 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Like any subject where the colour of one's skin is involved, this is guaranteed to become bogged down in racism issues very quickly.

I'm not entirely sure why... after all, I'm pretty sure the first woman to break 10seconds would be noteworthy.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 6:16 AM on July 28, 2010


Well, good for Mr. Lemaître!

It's a pity that his accomplishment gets marred by a bunch of bigots trying to undercut the accomplishments of others. The early history of basketball in the US was somewhat dominated by Jewish players, leading to:

"The reason, I suspect, that basketball appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background," wrote Paul Gallico, sports editor of the New York Daily News and one of the premier sports writers of the 1930s, "is that the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness."*

I mean, "center of gravity" sounds much more scientific than "general smart aleckness," but, hey.

*More here
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:17 AM on July 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


There was a really interesting article about race and heredity and athletic ability on Slate the other day that may be germane.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:18 AM on July 28, 2010


I'm not entirely sure why... after all, I'm pretty sure the first woman to break 10seconds would be noteworthy.

The problem is that it is good when a member of a repressed minority in Wester Culture (i.e. anyone who isn't a white dude like our Mr. Lemaître) accomplishes something. But what happens when it is a member of the majority who overcomes the minority?
posted by griphus at 6:19 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember this guy.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:20 AM on July 28, 2010


Finally a break for white guys.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:20 AM on July 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


I remember discussing in one of my anthropology classes that folks in Africa have greater genetic diversity than anywhere else, which reduces to something like "that's why the fastest folks all seem to be from Africa, but the slowest dude in the world is probably from Africa too."
posted by sciurus at 6:25 AM on July 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


Let's be clear here.

Lemaitre is NOT the first white guy to break 10 seconds.

If "white guy" is defined as "not of recent African descent" then he is one of four.
posted by vacapinta at 6:25 AM on July 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


when does it become okay to be proud of someone's accomplishment when their white-ness is a major component?

This couldn't really be looked upon as positive statement about white guys compared to black guys. With one white guy and 69 black guys in the club, he's just a reminder of white athletic inferiority.
posted by pracowity at 6:26 AM on July 28, 2010


This guy's record exist specifically because of his (recent) origin as not-African.

As far as I'm concerned, the guy set no record (though I congratulate him on his accomplishment).
posted by MarshallPoe at 6:26 AM on July 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I like the pains they go through in the article to detach race from 100m performance. It just seems overly PC. I remember the scientific studies that discredited significant differences between races. They said that the standard deviations were significantly larger than any mean shift between two ethnic groups and therefore there are no significant differences between the races. And that makes complete sense. But what if there is a slight mean shift and the std deviations are similar? Wouldn't you expect that far from the mean, which top sprinters certainly are, that mean shift would still exist? Or possibly even be amplified? I mean Bolt still has 4/10ths of a second on this guy, in a 10 second race that is an eternity.
posted by no_moniker at 6:29 AM on July 28, 2010


Next: Can white men also jump?
posted by DU at 6:32 AM on July 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Talking about white sprinters, I find this absurd," he said. "This story is too much, I don't like it. I had a good race, I broke the record, but there is not much more to say. I did what I had to do, that's it."

Talk about humility. From the Guardian Article, he also talks about finishing up his university degree before devoting his life to the sport, and comes across as an all-around nice guy. Maybe fame and fortune will eventually "ruin" him, but for now, he seems like an awesome athletic role model.

Also, if we don't want to talk about the fact that he's white, maybe we can talk about the fact that he's got a completely different body type than most other sprinters. He's skinnier than most distance runners!
posted by schmod at 6:32 AM on July 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


From a recent Sports Illustrated story on sports and genetics:

What Kidd, Tishkoff and others have found is that genetic variability—differences in DNA among people—is greater among Africans within a single population than among people from different continents outside Africa. This is because all human genetic information was contained in Africa not so terribly long ago, and our ancestors who left Africa—most likely a single group of no more than a few hundred people—took only a small portion of it with them en route to populating the world. ...

Kidd suggests that for any activity that has a genetic component, the world's most naturally gifted person is likely to be African (or recently removed from Africa, as are African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans), as is the world's least naturally gifted individual. So both the fastest and slowest runners might well be of recent African descent.

posted by stargell at 6:32 AM on July 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


The current world #1 in chess is also 19 years old. When people close to me in age but slightly younger are setting records I start to wonder what I'm doing with my life, spending half my day listlessly browsing MetaFilter.
posted by resiny at 6:35 AM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the future, when the Chinese Government has generated the first transgenic humans by inserting the phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase enzyme into some of it's constituents, 10 seconds for 100 meters will seem tragically slow. Except for non-transgenics of non-West-African descent, of course.
posted by kisch mokusch at 6:37 AM on July 28, 2010


griphus/MarshallPoe: This guy beat the French national record, so that's a record.
vacapinta: "...and one of Aborigine descent." I suppose it's there for Patrick Johnson?
XMLicious: You're grounded.
posted by surrendering monkey at 6:39 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I start to wonder what I'm doing with my life, spending half my day listlessly browsing MetaFilter.

Look on the bright side; perhaps you are the most listless browser on MetaFilter!

Now we just need some genetic data and half-thought-through metrics, and we are in business!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:41 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait the important point here is that Usain Bolt *at 21* had a record of 10.03. This dude is *fast* by any skincolour's standards and we'll see how he stands up to pressure (competing with experienced runners like Dwain Chambers and Francis Obikwelu) tonight (21:45 GMT) at the European track and field Championship's 100m final.
He is not the fastest 20 year-old around though... At least not yet.
posted by talos at 6:41 AM on July 28, 2010


I start to wonder what I'm doing with my life, spending half my day listlessly browsing MetaFilter.

Well then, start browsing MetaFilter with vigor, man!
posted by joe lisboa at 6:42 AM on July 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


So both the fastest and slowest runners might well be of recent African descent.

First of all, the second part of that sentence doesn't make any sense. Stephen Hawking is white as hell, and I can assure you his 100 would be timed with a calendar.

Secondly, I always have trouble with this "black guys are naturally faster than white guys..." deal. I do believe, percentage-wise, it may be the case, but to hear it bums me right the fuck out.

My Irish cousins are all awesome atheletes, and two played in college. Me and my sisters are the only ones who are of "recent african heritage" or whatever.

We get our asses kicked in every sport, aside from golf. My 50+ year old uncle made me look pathetic in flag football last summer.

Whatever tribe I descend from, we must have been kickass at hiding.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 6:44 AM on July 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


I guess the "slowest runner" thing is a red herring, just think of it in these terms, the "nearer" you are to humanity's African roots, the longer the tail gets in regard to genetic variability.
posted by sciurus at 6:48 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Isn't it more accurately described as West African sprinters vs. the rest? Fast twitch muscle fibres etc. I don't see any Kenyan sprinters doing 100 under 10.
posted by kersplunk at 6:51 AM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


When people close to me in age but slightly younger are setting records I start to wonder what I'm doing with my life, spending half my day listlessly browsing MetaFilter.

"It's people like that who make you realize how little you've accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age he had been dead for two years."
posted by griphus at 6:52 AM on July 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


When a person in a minority sets a record, you can kind of assume that in order to get the level of skill that they needed for that, they had to overcome a lot of discrimination. That is what's to be proud of when a person in a minority sets a record; the record itself is just a proxy.

Skinny white men can set records too, and you'd be well justified to be impressed with them, but there's a good deal less to be proud of. Not that Christophe's training was easy; I expect it wasn't. I guess you can be proud of him for working very hard, if you want to; if so, I hope you do the same for all other record-setting athletes, and many who fail to set records, as well.

Being proud of him for setting a record while white is rather frivolous. You don't (I hope) feel pride in black athletes for setting records while black, you feel pride in them for setting records while facing discrimination. Being proud of someone for their skin color (or national origin or gender expression or whatever) does not make sense, because that, in-and-of itself, is merely a fact about a person and doesn't make it any harder to do what they did (though the social implications of that trait might have).

Make sense?
posted by LogicalDash at 6:54 AM on July 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


imho, although I think there is ample anecdotal evidence at least conjecture that there are physical differences and capabilities between the races, it's nothing we're going to find out anytime soon what with the bigoted idiots on one side screaming superiority and the PC idiots on the other side screaming racism. Pity.

Ont the other hand, those PEPCK-C mice are frightening. Increased longevity, resistance to heart/stress debilitation, double the breeding span, 60% higher intake, half the body mass, insanely aggressive, practically fatigue-resistant? The article notes that it's impossible to do this with humans, both actually and ethically. But if it's more of an ethical problem, somewhere, sometime there is going to be something like super-Gollum: small, skinny, strong, tireless, insane, and aggressive.
posted by umberto at 7:01 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've found that the general rule of thumb: "There is absolutely zero possibility (and even the consideration is "x"-ist") that any ethnicity, group, tribe or race has any inherent advantage as a group in any activity, whether physical, intellectual or otherwise, and, rather, all of our physical and mental attributes are determined completely randomly at birth and are in no way based on our genetic background" works pretty good in discussions about sports or academics, given the past history of oppression by whites and males. Any remark that implies otherwise, whether or not empirically or logically supported, is bound to get you into trouble and, in any event, has no positive benefit to the speaker or the listener unless its just a bunch of dudes trying to sit around talking about how they're the best. Please continue.
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:03 AM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry, the mice thing was referencing kisch mokusch's link. Unclear.
posted by umberto at 7:07 AM on July 28, 2010


Huh. And I thought the secret to speed lay in the belly button.
posted by norm at 7:10 AM on July 28, 2010


re anti -Jewish slurs (see above comment)--outstanding teams were City College and NYU back then, and many or most of the players were Jewish. The slurs I encountered went well beyond the rather gentle ones cited above and suggest Jews were great at basketball because it was a game calling for guile, trickery, sneakiness, slipperiness. And then the blacks dominated the game and....?

Well, good for the white guy but I bet like White guys Can't Jump.
posted by Postroad at 7:19 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


All Europeans are of African descent.

slow clap.
posted by modernnomad at 7:25 AM on July 28, 2010


"that's why the fastest folks all seem to be from Africa, but the slowest dude in the world is probably from Africa too."

Puerto Rico, most recently
posted by rocket88 at 7:37 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's quite an accomplishment, considering he had to run while carrying an invisible knapsack.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 7:39 AM on July 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


I would like to know whether there really is a connection between African descent and running skills or whether it's just cognitive bias. Is there scientific evidence for that?
posted by Omnomnom at 7:40 AM on July 28, 2010


If anyone's curious, here's a video of Lemaître's 9.98 run.
posted by Kattullus at 7:43 AM on July 28, 2010


On preview, what Sciurus said, but with more detail:

A small group left Africa a couple thousand generations ago. Unless you're Eric Von Daniken it's probably safe to assume that this wasn't really a planned "Og conquer new continent" thing. Whatever they were hunting and gathering looked juicier in that direction. So your dealing with a small group that probably wasn't, genetically, all that different from the rest of humanity.

It's probably safe to assume that there are genes that is going to leave you predisposed for athletic performance. We can point to this or that gene and say, "that one codes for hemoglobin" but usually you can't link a complex trait to a single protein modification. Even things like skin and eye color, much less things like face shape or running speed. Ethics aside, one could go all "Man Plus" and try to tweak the human genome to get a super athlete, and there may be one or two easy modifications out there, but really, this is the stuff of bad science fiction (or maybe I have a defect in my gene for disbeliefase). In reality you're playing in the wonderful world of emergent properties and your ability to predict is going to be terribly limited. So it's far easier to just go out into the field and find a fast runner and who cares what their genotype is.

Since the group that left Africa was not as big as the group that stayed behind, it is safe to assume that the wanderers had a smaller gene pool. Give the two populations 3000 or so generations to do their thing - not long enough to do too much serious evolving. Just the occasional mutation and some mixing and matching. Then start testing the various phenotypes with some scientific test designed to....just kidding....have a beer company sponsor some kind of event where a bunch of people hit a ball with a stick, or carry it down a field or just run and jump as fast and as high as they can. Nobody wants to watch the average guy do these things - they want the amazingly fast. So we're looking for the most amazing performers we can find. Once training techniques start to become relatively uniform you're left looking for the most EXTREME combination of genes you can get. Since the group that stayed in Africa had a bigger set of genes to mix and match, the odds are, it's going to be one of them for purely statistical reasons.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:50 AM on July 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


This is sure to make Fox News as it means some of us will still be able to outrun the coming mobs.

Not me though: my 40 time, admittedly on a twisted ankle (but of little consequence), was a blazing 5.6 seconds. I'll work on talking my way out of things.
posted by yerfatma at 7:50 AM on July 28, 2010


It is of course "right" to suggest that there is no inherent difference among various peoples and thus black are not better at such and such and whites such and such, and to claim otherwise is to imply various biases. I would only note that in general, blacks from certain areas of Africa excel in long distances; blacks (american) excel in sprints; white in general are better competitive swimmers than blacks; and blacks in general better basketball players than whites.
That said, one can quickly note that basketball is a game easy work at in inner cities whereas swimming requires pools etc; and that hockey requires certain things that blacks and whites in warm climates are not likely to engage in.
Boxing ought then to be accessible to white as well as blacks but in heavier weight divisions, blacks dominate whereas in lighter weights, those with Hispanic backgrounds dominate.
Baseball has a mix, but some writers suggest that blacks know at an early age that the real money is going to be in basketball with more opportunities, and thus players from Cuba, Central America etc now become stars, along with others.
What we do know for sure: certain body types are attracted to specific sports. But that goes for all ethnicities. We also know that though Kenyans and Ethiopians are outstanding long-distance runners, it was but a very few years ago that Japanese, Tunisian, American long distance runners were winning marathons--and their record times are often as good as the more recent crop of distance runners.
If, then, you look at the build of sprinters (forget color) and long distance runners, clearly body types play some role. If you explore environmental issues, these too play a role.
posted by Postroad at 8:00 AM on July 28, 2010


You don't (I hope) feel pride in black athletes for setting records while black, you feel pride in them for setting records while facing discrimination.

There's also the fact that if you grow up with an education which has made people like you invisible and never mentions any of their achievements, and generally makes invisible the ones which have been accomplished, you're going to be extra proud of the current achievements.

It's not even just whatever the athlete or individual faces- it's dealing with the larger cultural narrative.
posted by yeloson at 8:04 AM on July 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


It is of course "right" to suggest that there is no inherent difference among various peoples and thus black are not better at such and such and whites such and such, and to claim otherwise is to imply various biases.

It's "right", but it's also correct. "Black" and "white" are social constructs very very roughly based on ethnic origin. "Africa" is a big fucking continent, and my initial problem with every article of this type is the conflation of extraordinary Africans of one ethnicity with Africans of all ethnicities.
posted by muddgirl at 8:14 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tibetans tend to have some pretty nifty adaptations to high altitude living. We get different skin colors depending on the availability of sunlight for Vitamin D production and how much UV we have to deal with — which is pretty damned stupid, when you think about it, because we ought to be able to manufacture the stuff without it. Oh, and we have melanin as some kind of lousy sunscreen when we ought to have photolyases like plants and practically every other non-mammalian critter out there. That's right, all of this hulabaloo about skin color arises because evolution has rather crappily made up for missing enzymes and sorely lacking metabolic pathways.

Nature does not do a great job. Nature does not care about making things exactly equal. Nature is not interested in making a carefully leveled field of opportunity, and certainly not to provide fair play. Frankly, I'd be shocked if various isolated populations did not, once upon a time, have little genetic nudges here and there that would be very hard to pick out in the middle of the normal distribution for a given ability, but when you got out to the far, far end of the bell curve where you are looking for people with literally one-in-a-million abilities, those nudges began to dominate.

Evolution does not care about equality. What we ought to be aiming for is equal legal rights and equal human opportunities, not treating as heresy any idea other than we all came stamped out as these identical tabula rasa blobs where any discernible difference can be only cosmetic or the result of societal failure.

I'm mostly Scottish and Irish. This predisposes me to all kinds of things like Seasonal Affective Disorder and rosacea and whatnot. Acknowledging this does not automatically mean that, whammo, I ought to be treated differently from some kind of legal perspective because of my heritage. Acknowledging differences, even slight differences, is not an automatic circumscription of how I "ought" to be treated. So if pasty dudes tend not to be in the greatest of the great sprinters (and to be fair, I'm not much of a runner) compared to non-pasty dudes, it does not automatically follow that we must forbid pasty dudes from owning Nikes. All that logically follows out of it is, "Hunh, pasty dudes tend not to be quite as fast at the edges. Evolution is weird."

Life does not come as fair out of the box. People must make it that way if they want it that way, but pretending that we all came with the same exact abilities, but for the interference of the Wicked Man, is like building a castle while ignoring the variations of the soil upon which you lay the foundation.
posted by adipocere at 8:16 AM on July 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


What a weird post. What a weird post title. There is no such thing as race. It's all in your head.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:19 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


We get different skin colors depending on the availability of sunlight for Vitamin D production and how much UV we have to deal with

This may or may not be entirely true.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:22 AM on July 28, 2010


If this were the NFL we'd say this guy has "deceptive speed".
posted by nathancaswell at 8:22 AM on July 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Lemaitre is skinny by contemporary sprinter standards. His long stride reminds me of Carl Lewis's; I wonder if, like Lewis, he will be able to use that long stride to win at 200m.

Anyway, in a couple years it's possible that the kid will have muscled up a bit, which should help him get out of the blocks and up to speed quicker.
posted by Mister_A at 8:24 AM on July 28, 2010


Vacapinta: Lemaitre is NOT the first white guy to break 10 seconds.

If "white guy" is defined as "not of recent African descent" then he is one of four.


There's some confusion in the articles. The original article doesn't say he's the first white guy. It says he's the first 'white European'. e.g. there are black Europeans who have run sub-10s (Linford Christie for one) previously. But no white Europeans.

The Daily Mail (3rd link) mangled this into saying he's the first person of European descent to do so. I'm sure you are as shocked as I am that the Mail would get something wrong.
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:27 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, "deceptive speed" is def. code for "fast white guy." Which is stupid, because there are plenty of white guys that will just run right by you if you let 'em and plenty of fast guys that can't catch a cold.
posted by Mister_A at 8:30 AM on July 28, 2010


What a weird post. What a weird post title. There is no such thing as race. It's all in your head.

And in other people's heads. Football is an interesting sport to look at through the lens of race and society. Discrimination and prejudice is a two-way street, and it's pretty evident in football where those preconceived notions lie. It is assumed by most football fans and coaches, either explicitly or implicitly, that whites make better quarterbacks. Depending on your point of view, that statement (that other people believe this) is either a completely obvious and innocuous thing to say, or it is offensive and inaccurate in this day and age (ie, you believe that coaches and fans are colorblind to race when it comes to quarterback). But there's a reason why a huge percentage of white football players either play quarterback or are linemen: they are told that those are the positions in which they can excel. Just like it is assumed that whites make better quarterbacks, it is assumed that black athletes make better skill position players. Running backs are almost uniformly black, and there is an implicit prejudice that black athletes simply make better running backs than do whites. Toby Gerhart was one of the best college running backs I've ever seen, but there is an assumption that he will not succeed at the pro level. Underlying that assumption is the fact that he is white - as nathancaswell said, white players are never fast. They are, instead, "deceptively fast," or they are said to excel in spite of their talent deficiency - that they get by using other means, like their "knowledge of the game." If you have the time, you should read about the interviews he had with some of these pro teams, where they ask him why he wants to be a running back, if he thinks he'll be good, if he thinks a white player can be a starting running back - it's crazy stuff, and if the races were reversed, we'd be (rightly) up in arms about it.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:40 AM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Boxing ought then to be accessible to white as well as blacks but in heavier weight divisions, blacks dominate whereas in lighter weights, those with Hispanic backgrounds dominate.

Is this genetics or do social issues and class have an effect here? Surely who is successful in boxing depends somewhat on who enters boxing in the first place. A sport with a high chance of brain damage is perhaps less attractive to people with other options...
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:40 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think, GenjiandProust, that the socioeconomic factors account for 99% of the apparent talent disparity in "white" vs. "black" dominated sports.
posted by Mister_A at 8:54 AM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


If this were the NFL we'd say this guy has "deceptive speed".

And in baseball he'd be a "hustler" as opposed to a black "speedster". He'd also be "giving 100%" as opposed to being "a gifted athlete".
posted by rocket88 at 8:55 AM on July 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's pretty crazy how much sportsfans have bought into this. Donovan McNabb used to face criticism for not running enough, for trying to hard to be a "pocket" (stationary) passer.
posted by Mister_A at 9:11 AM on July 28, 2010


The NFL is an interesting place to look when thinking about this issue. Nearly every single player who enters the league, from 350lb linemen to 165lb scatbacks to punters, is timed in the 40 yard dash. And across the league, regardless of position, I can name 2 or 3 white guys who broke 4.4 compared to literally dozens of black guys. For every Kevin Curtis I can name 15 Donnie Averys.

Now as Arsenio points out, white players are absolutely dissauded from playing positions like receiver, running back and cornerback where speed is a premium. But this is league wide so what gives? What is the lucrative sport that all the fast white kids from Texas are electing to play instead of football? Are they all playing centerfield somewhere? Running track?
posted by nathancaswell at 9:14 AM on July 28, 2010


What a weird post. What a weird post title. There is no such thing as race. It's all in your head.

And as soon as everyone acknowledges this and rectifies the systematic injustices that are product of this thing in our heads, then we can start treating quips like this as more than facile attempts to, I dunno, appear better informed or above talking about race?
posted by joe lisboa at 9:16 AM on July 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


Sorry if that seemed harsh, I am running out the door. Apologies for impugning your motives.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:18 AM on July 28, 2010


Lemaître est le maître.

Isn't french fun?
posted by blue_beetle at 9:36 AM on July 28, 2010



Lemaître est le maître.

Isn't french fun?


I knew it! He's bending time to win races!
posted by schmod at 9:44 AM on July 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


A sport with a high chance of brain damage is perhaps less attractive to people with other options...

And yet every fit middle-class college guy I know is all about MMA. Maybe boxing is just over?
posted by coolguymichael at 9:59 AM on July 28, 2010


Doing a krav maga class is a far sight from becoming a golden gloves boxer...
posted by Mister_A at 10:22 AM on July 28, 2010


And yet every fit middle-class college guy I know is all about MMA. Maybe boxing is just over?

I'm no expert, but MMA seems to have considerably less direct blows to the head/chance of straight-up brain damage than boxing.
posted by griphus at 10:26 AM on July 28, 2010


IIRC, MMA is more grappling and leverage than straight-up punching each other.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:40 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


You would be happy with this quote from the article then:
The idea that the colour of one's skin is somehow related to innate ability is now recognized as an invidious cultural artifact that simply does not correspond to genetic reality.
In other words, genes != race?
posted by mrgrimm at 10:43 AM on July 28, 2010


oops. in regard to:

Secondly, I always have trouble with this "black guys are naturally faster than white guys..." deal. I do believe, percentage-wise, it may be the case, but to hear it bums me right the fuck out.

posted by mrgrimm at 10:45 AM on July 28, 2010


I guess the "slowest runner" thing is a red herring, just think of it in these terms, the "nearer" you are to humanity's African roots, the longer the tail gets in regard to genetic variability.

Am I the only one that misread this the first time through?
posted by mecran01 at 11:24 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


He is young and still has a lot of time to shave off some more time from is personal record. Looking forward to seeing how he does in the future.
posted by wherespaul at 11:30 AM on July 28, 2010


Nature does not do a great job. Nature does not care about making things exactly equal. Nature is not interested in making a carefully leveled field of opportunity, and certainly not to provide fair play.

So sick of this shit.

We know that nature does not care about making things equal. How stupid do you think we are?

Previous beliefs about biological differences between "races" and "peoples" -- often backed up by SCIENTISTS! of the time -- have been proven wrong time and time again. We learn later they are wrong, but by then the damage is already done. We know what barbaric things have been done, are being done, in the name of those beliefs. In the name of what is natural, what is biological. So as people who are aware of that history, you might perhaps understand why we might need to be sceptical, unless there is pretty damn conclusive evidence, instead of just accepting theories and speculations about what is natural, about how we have evolved, right?

People are not all "PC" about race because they want everyone to be equal. This is bullshit, that you set up so you can knock down. People are "PC" about race, perhaps because they are aware of things such as the stereotype threat. How what people believe actually feeds into performance, the appearance of which feeds back into beliefs, locking people in place and preventing them from achieving their potential. We are always finding out new things like this all the time: how our minds, our beliefs and preconceptions, and the society around us affect and limit people's fulfilment of their potential.

So if pasty dudes tend not to be in the greatest of the great sprinters (and to be fair, I'm not much of a runner) compared to non-pasty dudes, it does not automatically follow that we must forbid pasty dudes from owning Nikes. All that logically follows out of it is, "Hunh, pasty dudes tend not to be quite as fast at the edges. Evolution is weird."

Yes, because that's what people do with theories of biological differences in abilities between people. We are calmly logical, we just shrug and say Huh! Evolution sure is weird! And then we go merrily on with our day, and not let those theories colour how we see and treat people in any way. It is just an interesting tidbit of info, in case it comes up in a future trivia quiz.
Lemaitre's achievement prompted a discussion with an uncomfortable theme in the French press. Le Monde wrote: "It has launched an old and controversial debate that can be summarised by the question: Do black people run faster than white people and if so, why?"

Blogs and message boards on liberal websites deplored the references to race as inflammatory while at the other end of the political spectrum extremist sites celebrated what they regarded as a victory for the white race. For Lemaitre the topic was distasteful.

"Talking about white sprinters, I find this absurd," he said. "This story is too much, I don't like it. I had a good race, I broke the record, but there is not much more to say. I did what I had to do, that's it." For Lemaitre the race was simply another stepping stone along the way to greater things. He shrugged when told he had entered the history books: "The history of French sprinting, yes, but let's not say that I'm in the big league yet."

But that did not stop the debate. Zoran Denoix, who coaches one of France's other athletics hopes, the triple jumper Térésa Nzola, was one of the outraged voices. "This is a false debate," said Denoix. "If one day the Chinese decide to make a guy run the 100m in less than 10 seconds, they will do. It is clear there is no genetic or other thing. It's just the kind of work you put in."

People move around; without even considering the ever-shifting definitions of your little categories, people mix. They always have, they do so even more now, and they will do so even more in the future. So where do you put those people in your mind, whose mixes and "heritage" are a blur? You can't possibly subdivide them all.

So what you're left with is, at some point you have to actually treat people as individuals -- individuals with whatever genetic potential they have, their social circumstances, the opportunities and luck they have had, and the efforts and hard work they put in, to make it all work to the best of their ability.

And that's the saddest thing about this story: the poor guy must've worked so hard, and instead of being recognized for that, he is caught up in this bullshit story, shoehorned into some category he never wanted to be in, his individuality taken away. He is now The Sprinter Of The White People.
Put simply, Lemaître is the third fastest sprinter ever at age 19/20. Faster than Carl Lewis, faster than Dwain Chambers, and significantly faster than what former world record-holder Asafa Powell and former double world champion Tyson Gay achieved at that age.

And the black sprinters who have done so well? Why, genetic advantages of course! Focus is no longer on their hard work, their individuality taken away too.

But those categories feel so right, don't they? The world is so much easier to make sense of that way. Because you know nature, and you know which part of our humanity is nature, and you would brook no scepticism or caution, because you see the TRUTH that the PC people of the world dare not face.

Lemaître seems like a really nice guy. I hope this doesn't distract him, and he goes on to achieve what he wants.
posted by catchingsignals at 11:55 AM on July 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


And as soon as everyone acknowledges this and rectifies the systematic injustices that are product of this thing in our heads, then we can start treating quips like this as more than facile attempts to, I dunno, appear better informed or above talking about race?

Sorry if my quip appeared to be facile, but, then again, it gave you a great chance to slam me down in a snide, sanctimonious way - I wonder if you would speak to me like that at a MeFi meetup.

I would also posit that I am better informed than you about talking about race (prove me wrong), because I lived for ten years as a "racial minority", and have two children who would be considered "mixed-race" where I used to live. During our recent 3-month trip back to Japan, my eldest son, who is a Japanese citizen, entered school. Luckily, our hometown is a friendly, relaxed place, but the issue of race and "half-ness" came up just about every day.

My son is taller and faster than others in his age cohort in Japan. But is it because I am "white", and he has "white" genes? Or would it be because his diet in Canada is significantly different than his Japanese schoolmates? Or that his schoolmates in Japan come from predominantly poorer socio-economic backgrounds, and don't have the same access to nutritious food? Or because his Japanese mother is quite tall by Japanese standards, same as her father's side of the family? Or because my father's side of the family is tall and thin?

Yet, his speed and athletic grace were attributed to his "whiteness". Same as his proficiency in Japanese school. He led his Japanese cohort in math and Japanese language arts. Was he smarter because of his race? Or was it because he has natural aptitudes for maths, attends Saturday Japanese school, and is enrolled in French immersion, and has therefore learned strategies for foreign and second language acquisition?

Over the past 16 years living between cultures, I have had ample time to contemplate the question of what makes people different. While there are obviously biological differences between groups (white skin versus black skin), these differences are not absolute; race is a continuum.

The categorization of race is also an attempt to assert control. Japanese anthropology, for example, is a mess. Generally speaking, the same people who call my sons "haafu" believe that Japanese people have always lived in Japan since paleolithic times, when it's very likely that the people who constitute "The Japanese Race" are probably a mixture of Polynesian and SE Asian migrants, folks from the Chinese continent, the Koreans who introduced continental culture to Japan, and aboriginal "Jomon" and "Emishi" people, who also not a homogeous "racial" group.

Race is just a continuum. It is an oppressive and meaningless way to classify (and often exclude) people. If we could give up the notion of race, it would make me very happy.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:07 PM on July 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Why is race still being used as a way for tracking these types of accomplishments?
posted by Fizz at 12:12 PM on July 28, 2010


Race is just a continuum. It is an oppressive and meaningless way to classify (and often exclude) people. If we could give up the notion of race, it would make me very happy.

KokuRyu - I think Joe Lisboa's point was that many people recognize that "race" is a social construction. But it being a made up thing does not mean it doesn't exist - we still see race, we are still obsessed with race, and there is obviously a lot of racial politics at play in this story.

Just because there's no such thing as race doesn't mean there's no such thing as racism.
posted by Think_Long at 12:31 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but why should we care that The first European who is not of African descent ran 100 metres in less than 10 seconds?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:35 PM on July 28, 2010


The "more inside" makes it clear that the topic of the post is the fact that so many people care about the race issue, not the fact that a white guy ran fast.
posted by Think_Long at 12:37 PM on July 28, 2010


Down with racism! Yeah, I said it. You assholes didn't have the BALLS to say it, but I did. I DON'T LIKE RACISM. Can't handle that? TOUGH TITTIES! Cause I'm speaking gee dee truth to POWER, and I think people should be treated EQUALLY!

If this gets me banned, well guess what? It was worth it! You'll all remember me, years from now, and you'll remember that I was the first dude you ever heard who said that RACISM IS JUST NOT RIGHT. Yeah, you're welcome.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:45 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


re anti -Jewish slurs (see above comment)--outstanding teams were City College and NYU back then, and many or most of the players were Jewish. The slurs I encountered went well beyond the rather gentle ones cited above and suggest Jews were great at basketball because it was a game calling for guile, trickery, sneakiness, slipperiness. And then the blacks dominated the game and....?

"To round out the story, one-third of the NBA's thirty teams have Jewish ownership. These include: 1) the Houston Rockets (Alexander), 2) Miami Heat (Arison) ..."
posted by jamjam at 12:56 PM on July 28, 2010


Yeah, but why should we care that The first European who is not of African descent ran 100 metres in less than 10 seconds?

This is an exercise for the reader.
posted by Mister_A at 1:10 PM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Interestingly, only one NBA team has Cuban ownership.
posted by Mister_A at 1:11 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, only one NBA team has Cuban ownership.

I didn't LOL but I sort of did that thing where you kind of tilt your head back and exhale through your nose? Know what I'm saying? KOTYHBAETYN?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:14 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


People are not all "PC" about race because they want everyone to be equal. This is bullshit, that you set up so you can knock down. People are "PC" about race, perhaps because they are aware of things such as the stereotype threat. How what people believe actually feeds into performance, the appearance of which feeds back into beliefs, locking people in place and preventing them from achieving their potential. We are always finding out new things like this all the time: how our minds, our beliefs and preconceptions, and the society around us affect and limit people's fulfilment of their potential.

Sure, but this is true of all beliefs and preconceptions, including the one you're advancing.

How come "nature does not care about making things equal" is something we need to "be sceptical" about because it's done "barbaric" things, yet "at some point you have to actually treat people as individuals" is not? Frankly, I can think of a hell of a lot of barbaric things which have been done, and are being done, in the name of that belief -- it's more-or-less the central justification of the global economic system, one which is vastly harmful to billions of people who happen to belong to the same social categories you're trying to downplay.

When we view human beings chiefly as peoples and as cultures, it's much easier to ignore or justify harm done to them as individuals. When we view human beings chiefly as individuals, however, it's much easier to ignore or justify harm done to them as peoples and as cultures. Adopting one stance or the other is a societal decision, not something that we "must" do because we "can't possibly" choose otherwise... and IMHO, both ends of the spectrum should be met with skepticism, especially when accompanied by claims that we "can't" see things any other way.
posted by vorfeed at 1:14 PM on July 28, 2010


I was sure Pietro Mennea had gone below 10 in the hundred, but according to Wikipedia, his pb is 10.01. He did go 19.72 in the 200, which was a world record for 17 years.
posted by IanMorr at 1:34 PM on July 28, 2010


When we view human beings chiefly as individuals, however, it's much easier to ignore or justify harm done to them as peoples and as cultures.

I'm not really understanding what you mean -- could you clarify it for me? I don't think I suggested we need to see people as only or even chiefly as individuals? It's certainly not my view, so I'm a bit confused what you mean.
posted by catchingsignals at 1:38 PM on July 28, 2010


So we're looking for the most amazing performers we can find. Once training techniques start to become relatively uniform you're left looking for the most EXTREME combination of genes you can get. Since the group that stayed in Africa had a bigger set of genes to mix and match, the odds are, it's going to be one of them for purely statistical reasons.

No.

Because: The Neanderthal genetic contribution to those humans who left Africa to spread to Europe and Asia, has recently been shown to be much larger than previously thought - shockingly larger, on the order of 4% (which is absolutely huge).

Note the graphic in the link - this genetic contribution completely bypassed African people. Which means, that while there is less variation in human genes for non-Africans, there is something much more exotic and radically different in their genes - non-human (Neanderthal) contribution.

I suspect that the squat powerfully built Neanderthals were not very fast runners, judging by sprinter body types, thus putting the average European at a disadvantage in such competitions /HAMBURGER/.

This whole thing is a crock. There is absolutely no proof about which specific genes are allegedly responsible for superior sprinting performance - and no, merely referencing fast-twitch fibers or oxygenative capacity is not going to cut it. For example, for the ability to suck oxygen out of the air, nobody beats the Tibetans (genetically) - but you don't see them sprinting to grab the gold. Yes, there is the predominance of Africans from certain regions in the sprinting elite - but who says that this is down to genes, and not social/economic/cultural factors? Maybe if you scanned all Chinese, or all Tibetans, or all Europeans, you'd find the fastest sprinter to be... an Eskimo!

I'm not opposed to exploring the genetic contribution to any particular performance or aptitude - but what I see mostly is the laziest kind of jumping to conclusions, fallacious reasoning and axe grinding.
posted by VikingSword at 1:45 PM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


So when do people start having arguments about genetics like we have about race? And will we have an NAACP equivalent for people with 'slow' genes? Will we have loud-mouthed TV and radio personalities going on about genes? Will we have political parties playing the 'gene card'?

Just a matter of time, perhaps.
posted by Rashomon at 1:59 PM on July 28, 2010


I know that the thread has moved on beyond Lemaitre himself, but following up on my earlier comment: He won the 100m handily, in the European Athletics Championship, despite an impressively late start. He ran the distance at 10.11 running against a 1 m/sec head wind. It is the first time a frenchman wins the 100 m dash in the european games since 1961 I think (and they also won bronze).
Having seen how he ran today, it seems improbable (barring an injury) that he loses the 200m. And if Usain didn't exist he'd be a serious contender for gold at the 2012 Olympics in both events. However Usain does exist and thus Lemaitre will be among the 3-4 mere mortals who will fight for the other two medals.
posted by talos at 2:00 PM on July 28, 2010


I was hearing some author of a book about prehistory on public radio claiming that early modern human hunter-gatherers were much faster than us in distance and sprints, and he specifically included Olympic level athletes.

Is this a widespread view, or even respectable?
posted by jamjam at 2:03 PM on July 28, 2010


I wish this wasn't so hard for people:

1. Skin color, hair type and the visual markers we associate with race have a low correlation to actual genes that matter in physical or intellectual performance.

Consider: does the color of a horse correspond to it running faster? No. Why would it be that way for humans? Bone structure would be the thing to look at, and while some groups tend to veer to certain proportions, it pretty much doesn't matter what color the 6'5" basketball player is- it's the fact that they're 6'5" that gives them a performance advantage.

2. These same visual markers are then used by society at large and have a big impact in how society treats you. Just because it's socially constructed, doesn't mean it doesn't have an effect on your life- it deeply affects your social networks, status, stress levels, economic options, and even health care.

If you're told you're not smart enough to do certain jobs, strongly encouraged towards athletics, odds are you're going to get more people who excel at athletics by numbers and odds alone.

All that said- two things need to happen before we can "get beyond race". The first myth needs to be destroyed, and the second issue needs to be addressed.

Otherwise you get a bunch of people with their hands over their eyes proclaiming very loudly, "I don't know WHY all these people keep getting shot in the back by the police. It's a complete mystery with no common factor!" All that does is let the racism continue on, with no solution.

The problem is not, and has never been that we look different or recognize that we look different. The problem is that we treat each other differently based upon it, and refuse to recognize that.
posted by yeloson at 2:07 PM on July 28, 2010


I'm not really understanding what you mean -- could you clarify it for me? I don't think I suggested we need to see people as only or even chiefly as individuals? It's certainly not my view, so I'm a bit confused what you mean.

I got that impression from these two paragraphs: "People move around; without even considering the ever-shifting definitions of your little categories, people mix. They always have, they do so even more now, and they will do so even more in the future. So where do you put those people in your mind, whose mixes and "heritage" are a blur? You can't possibly subdivide them all.

So what you're left with is, at some point you have to actually treat people as individuals -- individuals with whatever genetic potential they have, their social circumstances, the opportunities and luck they have had, and the efforts and hard work they put in, to make it all work to the best of their ability".

If collective social categories like "heritage" are increasingly invalid because "people mix" and "you can't possibly subdivide them all", and "what you're left with" is treating people as individuals, then this would seem to suggest that we need to see people chiefly as individuals. Or maybe you intended some significant difference between "see" and "treat"/"put those people in your mind" that I'm missing, here?

At any rate, I merely meant to point out that "we need to see people chiefly as individuals" is no more or less a social construction than "we need to see people chiefly as races" is, and has many similar effects. If the former is not your view, fair enough, but I'm sure you can agree that it is a pretty widespread idea.
posted by vorfeed at 2:35 PM on July 28, 2010


Sorry if my quip appeared to be facile, but, then again, it gave you a great chance to slam me down in a snide, sanctimonious way - I wonder if you would speak to me like that at a MeFi meetup.

Dude, I apologized and explained my tone once already. You know, immediately below my post. And if I met you at a meet-up I would buy you a drink regardless of your race, even though it does not exist. If it makes you feel better I will apologize again: I am sorry for impugning your motives.
posted by joe lisboa at 2:38 PM on July 28, 2010


If collective social categories like "heritage" are increasingly invalid because "people mix" and "you can't possibly subdivide them all", and "what you're left with" is treating people as individuals, then this would seem to suggest that we need to see people chiefly as individuals. Or maybe you intended some significant difference between "see" and "treat"/"put those people in your mind" that I'm missing, here?

Within a certain context, yeah, and in this specific case, yes. But I mean, for example I would have no problem at all with him celebrated as the first French man to break the 10-sec barrier. People form collectives, and we could talk about how say France has been successful in training and encouraging their sprinters, contributing to his success. That would make a whole lot more sense.

I don't have much respect for heritage other than as a point of curiosity, but that's another topic really.

At any rate, I merely meant to point out that "we need to see people chiefly as individuals" is no more or less a social construction than "we need to see people chiefly as races" is, and has many similar effects. If the former is not your view, fair enough, but I'm sure you can agree that it is a pretty widespread idea.

I sort of see what you mean, if you mean a Glenn Beck-sort of individualism (which I'm about as much against as can be) -- but if that's it, I don't think it's at all the same thing as what I was trying to say, and seem pretty unrelated to what we were talking about?
posted by catchingsignals at 2:56 PM on July 28, 2010


So, in 1979 Pietro Mannea ran 200m in 19.72s. There are 3 possibilities:

1) 100m split divides the time exactly: 2 x 100m @ 9.86s each.
2) First half is faster: 100m @ <9.86s then 100m @ >9.86s
3) Second half is faster: 100m @ >9.86s then 100m @ <9.86s

In all of these cases, Pietro Mannea ran 100m at 9.86s or faster. Faster than the "fastest white man in history", no less...
posted by mjg123 at 4:26 PM on July 28, 2010


I sort of see what you mean, if you mean a Glenn Beck-sort of individualism (which I'm about as much against as can be) -- but if that's it, I don't think it's at all the same thing as what I was trying to say, and seem pretty unrelated to what we were talking about?

I think the distinction you seem to be making between nations and ancestry is a very good example of what we're talking about, as is "I don't have much respect for heritage other than as a point of curiosity".

France did not pop into existence fifty years ago; the idea that French heritage is just "a point of curiosity" makes little sense if you're willing to concede that there are national differences such as being "successful in training and encouraging their sprinters". When you ask where these national differences come from over the long term, you're right back to heritage and culture, neither of which can be addressed if we view humans as individuals in cases like these.

I'm with you on the idea that just-so stories about heritage should be viewed with skepticism, but I think the idea that heritage doesn't matter should be viewed that way, too. Even if we put genetics entirely aside, our ancestors (not to mention many of the people who surround us today) believed that heritage mattered... and as you pointed out above, that changes things.

In short: I'm not just talking about "Glenn Beck-sort of individualism", I'm talking about a reluctance to admit that we're not getting the whole picture when we view people or groups as islands without heritage or history. You seem to want there to be a "French" category which matters, along with a "European ancestry" category and a "white" category which do not... yet the culture of France was itself shaped by a belief in both of those categories. There's no way to slice humanity open and lift "those categories" out -- at least, not without leaving yet another "bullshit story" (humanity as an archipelago) to fill the gap.
posted by vorfeed at 4:47 PM on July 28, 2010


"To the game and getting out of this hick town! Thank God there is a sport for middle-sized white boys."

~Derek Sutton; Youngblood
posted by bwg at 6:39 PM on July 28, 2010


mjg123: The first half of Mennea's 200m run, might count and it most certainly wasn't under 9.86. Until Bolt, the world record in the 100 m was consistently more than half the world record in the 200m, because in the 200 m you have the benefit of a "flying start". That means that the second hundred is faster than the first - if you can keep your speed up. You can see the same effect (more pronounced of course) in the relays: the average 100m run in the 4X100 WR time, is under 9.30 per runner. It was the same thing with Mennea (who run 19.72 in Mexico City's altitude with 1.8 tail wind - 0.2 m/sec under the legal limit, and never again ran under 19.96 I think): Usually, he especially, was a slow first 100m runner who burst into high gear in the second half of the race.

As for Bolt, what his 100 and 200m records tell us, I think, is that he has the capacity to run a near 19s 200m race.

Having seen Lemaitre today BTW (and waiting to see him in the 200m. his "better" event) I would be surprised if he didn't run under 19.72 within a year or two.
posted by talos at 7:29 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


sciurus: "I remember discussing in one of my anthropology classes that folks in Africa have greater genetic diversity than anywhere else, which reduces to something like "that's why the fastest folks all seem to be from Africa, but the slowest dude in the world is probably from Africa too.""

Qwop? I love that guy!
posted by Rhaomi at 8:07 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


While I absolutely understand the distaste people would have for starting down the slippery slope of comparing physical attributes categorized by race, I feel like you have to take into account some compelling evidence here. Namely:

There had been 446 legal sub-10-second performances in the men’s 100m; all of them achieved by 69 different sprinters of African-Caribbean descent and one of Aborigine descent.

Also, this link listing the NFL players who have broken 4.3 in the 40 since the NFL moved to electronic timing is interesting (I believe Trindon Holliday also broke 4.3 this year but for some reason his time was adjusted). I can't find a pic of Rondel Melendez but all of those other players are black. And the pantheon of classic fast guys in the NFL who entered the league before electronic timing are also all black (Bo Jackson, Darrell Green, Bob Hayes, Deion Sanders, Randy Moss). Unofficial 40 times are sort of the stuff of legend, but all those guys at some point or another have been reported as breaking 4.3 (yes, I realize that football 40 yard dash times are not comprable to track times, let's not go there).

At what point, while looking at numerical evidence like this, do we need to consider it as a possibility? Again, I understand the resistance to it... but still. The little data I know about it seems to corroborate the stereotype.

not a racist, i just like football! mcnabb is a good qb! so was warren moon, and doug williams was great in SB XXII! and i believe in jason campbell, and randall cunningham was ridiculous etc...
posted by nathancaswell at 8:32 PM on July 28, 2010


also i even like seneca wallace and want him to beat out jake delhomme in cleveland. i feel like he's never gotten a fair shake.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:41 PM on July 28, 2010


One last thing before I quit for the night. 60 Minutes had an interesting story on Samoan football players last year. Many of the potential reasons they give are social, but still one stat they drop is that "it is estimated that a boy born to Samoan parents is 56 times more likely than any other kid in America".

Size, combined with a warrior culture and economic depression where football is viewed as a way out has generated some pretty remarkable statical results. I mean, there are tons of Samoan dudes in the NFL.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:59 PM on July 28, 2010


it is estimated that a boy born to Samoan parents is 56 times more likely than any other kid in America

Well, that clears everything up!
posted by muddgirl at 6:57 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm with you on the idea that just-so stories about heritage should be viewed with skepticism, but I think the idea that heritage doesn't matter should be viewed that way, too. Even if we put genetics entirely aside, our ancestors (not to mention many of the people who surround us today) believed that heritage mattered... and as you pointed out above, that changes things.

But I never dismissed the importance of history vorfeed. That would make no sense! Heritage just doesn't make a person -- you know what I'm talking about right, when people say they are proud of their heritage, like it gives them some exclusive rights and entitlements, even though they did not have any hand in the achievements of their ancestors, and selectively ignore or whitewash all the terrible things their ancestors did?

Of course on a cause-and-effect level, we are all connected, past and present into future, and all of us in the present. If anything, I probably think we're more interconnected than most people do. Not sure why you think I don't! I honestly am baffled as to what you are reading into what I wrote.

I just want people to place credit where it's due. In the case of Christophe Lemaître, it is first and foremost his own hard work. Could not have happened without it, easily traceable, clear evidence -- so credit goes to him. Then you could look into the influence of his coaches, and how France support their athletes. That's still something concrete, something you can trace, there is evidence for it, it is in the present, you can see who had a hand in it. All of it is much less "bullshit" than "race" -- because we don't have evidence for that.

I'm all for people curious about their heritage, trying to look into it as a matter of interest. History is interesting, and we could all do with learning from history. But that is necessarily incomplete information. Even then, if there was a clear cultural emphasis in French history on success in athletics or sprinting, then yes, we would point to that and say that might've helped. But if someone said that Christophe Lemaître's success is because the French people were always more hard-working or more determined or more naturally gifted in sports, genetically or culturally, I would need some pretty damn solid evidence, otherwise it is the same toxic bullshit as it always was -- and believing in that would most definitely be not learning from history. Does that make sense?
posted by catchingsignals at 4:12 PM on July 29, 2010


Many of the potential reasons they give are social, but still one stat they drop is that "it is estimated that a boy born to Samoan parents is 56 times more likely than any other kid in America".

Aren't black people on the whole the best athletes in the world? They clearly dominate so many sports. It seems absurd to say there's no correlation between race and athletic ability.

Correlation doesn't equal causation, I'm sure you know. So many potential social reasons, so much history of dismissing social explanations in favour of biological ones, now recognised as horrible mistakes. The data might corroborate the stereotype because the data was caused and reinforced by the stereotype in the first place. You want to make the case for a biological link, you need much more solid evidence than that. Otherwise we're just doing the same stupid shit as we always did, locking people into place, telling them what they are good at and not good at, what they are supposedly born to be.
posted by catchingsignals at 4:39 PM on July 29, 2010


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