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posted Apr 27, 2009
Runners are indeed 'talented' in the same way that Darts players are.I think you are presuming that Sammy Wanjuri, simply got up one day & thought to himself 'I hink i'll run a 2hr 05 marathon today & he could because of an accident of birth.The body he inherited at birth is a factor, but the fact that he trains 3 times a day at incredibile pace ( along with loads of other of his countrymen ) to develop the body he was born with is the most significant factor.Darts players have some kind of hand/eye co ordination, but if they never bothered to practice their 'art', then another player who does practice but has the same 'talent' will mostly win. So practice allied to talent improves performance.
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But the difference between being able to run 2.05 or better and being able to run 2.10 is genetic. I would imagine everyone running at this level is probably training equally as hard. (obviously not in every case.)More than 95% of top Kenyan athletes come from one tribe (Kalenjin - about 12% of the Kenyan population.) Are you suggesting that the other 88% don't train hard enough?
posted Apr 28, 2009
Clearly, Kenyans and perhaps Kalenjin in particular (because they predominate) have a natural propensity towards running. But whether this can be attributed solely to a specific genetic advantage, is questionable.What seems to often be implied is that non Africans can train as hard as they possible can (assuming that it is also the most effective training) but they can never achieve the same level as an athlete from the Kenya or Ethiopia who currently hold all the distance records (except the 1500mts) from 800-marathon because they do not have the same genetic make-up!Rather than a suggested specific genetic advantage it is more likely a combination of ideal running environment, socio-economic background, diet and economic motivation. No Kenyan or Ethiopian world class athlete to my knowledge has come from a middle class, born and raised city background where life opportunities are considerably different.Ethiopian and Kenyan runners grow up in poor agricultural communities. They live at altitude. The walk and run almost everywhere they need to go. As children they invariably have to walk or run to and from school sometimes as much as 10k away. Sport in school is limited to basic ball games, basic gymnastics and running due to the lack of facilities and equipment. Their diet is mainly home grown, basic and natural. Those that show high enough athletic ability in their last school years are offered the opportunity to join and train with the athletics teams of government bodies such as the Post Office, the Armed Forces, Railways or Prison Services and provided with keep and a salary. Today with the success and substantial financial rewards seen of so many of their compatriots others are motivated and inspired to try and follow suit. Training camps have been set up and financed by top athletes and their agents to attract new talent of which there is a large pool where only those with the ability and the talent to train to the limit of human potential will survive and succeed which is simply why they are so good.For talented non Africans to succeed at the same level it takes a committed mind set, the right environment and the same level of training, not some specific African gene. Paula Radcliffe and a very few others prove the case.
It's not wholly genetic, of course it's not, but when 88% of the population of a running mad country like Kenya have never really done anything, it's hard to discount it completely.It's a significant advantage.I personally don't think it's possible for a man of European decent to run sub 26.30 for 10k, doped or not doped.
Hi James - good post - agree with most of your points, but diet? I agree that home grown and natural is a good way to go, but from what I have heard (second hand so please correct if I have been misinformed) a large number of calories in a typical kenyans diet comes from "kenyan tea" which is loaded with crazy amounts of sugar. Surely huge quantities of refined sugar aren't what anyone would consider an important part of a healthy diet. I suspect it is the other factors you highlight that are more likely to make the difference.I think sociological factors are huge - there's an interesting comparison to be made between kenyan distance running and jamaican sprinting. I suspect that Kenya could produce some great 400m runners but it's obviously not an event that is considered as attractive - they used to have some very useful 4x4 teams and Kipketer was no slouch (I refuse to believe he could not have gone faster than his 46), so why don't they produce any 400 representatives of note
You're right about the Kenyan tea. Made with milk, by the way, not water and loaded with white sugar! But I guess they manage to burn off the calories and the rest of their diet is pretty good, without cakes, ice cream, cheese, McDonalds and fizzy pop: Whole milk, Fresh meat (mainly goat) greens and maize (ugali)They have had sprinters and 400mts runners (faster than 46) but the predominant athletic "culture" is distance running which is done in highly competitive groups. The other events are just too specialised and require near by running tracks* and coaches. * and only a couple of synthetic tracks in both Kenya and Ethiopia!I don't have any doubt that it is possible for a white man to run under 26.30 (by which time the world record might be 26.00!) but of course it will take the African approach to achieve it. If an Englishman like Jon Brown (with all respect to him) can run 27.18 and Dave Moorcroft can run 13.00.41, then others will inevitably and eventually run faster. It's all about what I said before: Commitment, environment level of relevant training and obviously talent.Everyone talks about "training hard" but how many actually train as hard as Bikela, Geb, Wanjuri and all the rest? Clearly for the women, the likes of those who are winning major events, are training as hard but as for the men????
Without wanting to bury my head in the sand (completely acknowledge there are no British men who are competitive at the marathon at a global level at the moment) I think that there is a tendancy to overlook the fact that the picture of the women's distance scene looks artificially rosy due to the fact that there is globally less depth in the event.If we take the 2.18 mark in the mens marathon (purely because it was last year's PO10 number) that is around 111% of world record time. There were 3 Brits under it. 111% of the women's record is a fraction under 2.30 and there were 4 British women under that mark - not a huge difference.In terms of % of WR an equivalent male performance to Yamauchi's new pb is 2.11, a time Abyu has bettered and Brown too (who of course no longer runs for GB.)At the truly elite end, there is a British women better than any British man, but it is misleading to suggest the difference in depth between the sexes is huge.
Over the past decade our women have performed better than the men. But in anycase my comment was about the very best white women in the world being able to compare with the very best black women to prove that it can't be simply (if at all) genetic.
Do you honestly believe that if there were as many African women who were able (allowed) to compete in sport that it would be so easy for the Brits, etc, to pick up medals?Paps is right on the depth front.I remember Hayley Yelling being able to be pretty successful off the back of her 32ish minute 10k PB. Then talking about how the women just train harder than the men, that's why they are more successful. When her time was actually no better than the men she was criticising, just that there was so much more competition.
James - agree it's not just genetic - Paula (and others) show that.I'm sure you're right that the British women have fared better in recent years (a full review is more than I can face after tonights' track session!) My point was more that whilst comments criticising the absence of a Brit at the sharp end of global distance races are accurate, it is innacurate to say that there is much greater depth on the womens front since rankings/placings are skewed massively by the global lack of depth amongst women marathoners.As I've mentionned before, my biggest complaint is about the lack of credit - not funding, just recognition - that our distance runners get. How much attention did the national road relays attract despite a blinding performance from Phil Wicks? He and Lemoncello are probably two of the most likely candidates to be leading future British marathon rankings, but I imagine there are a lot of people, even amongst those that consider themselves to be athletics fans, who wouldn't recognise a photo of them.
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