Academic Study Attempts to Explain Why Black Athletes Are Faster

In 1980 Allan Welles, a white man from Britain, won the 100-meter sprint at the Moscow Olympics. The world’s top sprinters at the time, African Americans from the United States, did not participate due to the U.S. boycott of the games. Since that time, no white man has won or even made the eight-man final field in the 100-meter sprint. The event has been dominated by black men from several countries including Jamaica, Canada, and the United States.

In an article sure to provoke controversy, scientists at Duke University and Cornell University attempt to provide an explanation for the dominance of black athletes in sprinting events at the Olympics and other international track and field competitions. The authors also claim that white athletes have an advantage in swimming competitions.

Their research was published in the British-based International Journal of Design and Nature Ecodynamics under the title “The Evolution of Speed in Athletics: Why the Fastest Runners Are Black and Swimmers White.” According to the authors, “locomotion is a ‘falling-forward’ cycle, in which body mass falls forward and then rises again. Mass that falls from a higher altitude falls faster, down, and forward. In running, the altitude is set by the position of the center of mass above the ground. The anthropometric literature shows that the center of mass in blacks is 3 percent higher above the ground than in whites. This means that blacks hold a 1.5 percent speed advantage in running.” Whites, according to the research, have a body type that gives them an advantage in swimming events.

The lead author of the study is Adrian Bejan, the J.A. Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke University. “Blacks tend to have longer limbs with smaller circumferences, meaning that their centers of gravity are higher compared to whites of the same height,” Bejan says. “Asians and whites tend to have longer torsos, so their centers of gravity are lower.” One coauthor, Edward Jones, an African American who teaches at Howard University and is a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, says, “There is a whole body of evidence showing that there are distinct differences in body types among blacks and whites. Whether the fastest sprinters are Jamaican, African or Canadian, most of them can be traced back [genetically] to Western Africa.”

The article can be purchased for download from the journal’s publisher by clicking here.