Why black people are better runners and white people are better swimmers

by Staff writer

Since 1968, the world record holders in the men’s 100-meter dash have been black athletes.

In fact, 28 out of the last 38 world record holders in the men’s 100-meter dash have all been black athletes, and researchers at two universities think they now know why.

A 2010 study by researchers at Howard University,Washington D.C., and Duke University in North Carolina suggests that the reason black athletes may outperform athletes of other races in running events could be as a result of physical differences in the length of the limbs and the structure of the body.

Differences in the length of the limbs and the structure of the body mean the center of gravity tends to be higher in the bodies of black people, the researchers say.

“There is a whole body of evidence showing that there are distinct differences in body types among blacks and whites,” said researcher Edward Jones, who researches adolescent obesity, nutrition and body composition at Howard University.

“These are real patterns being described here. Whether the fastest sprinters are Jamaican, African or Canadian, most of them can be traced back generally to Western Africa.”


Although there are also cultural factors at work, it all comes down to body makeup, Jones said.

“Blacks tend to have longer limbs with smaller circumferences, meaning that their centers of gravity are higher compared to whites of the same height,” said Adrian Bejan, Jones’ co-author, an engineering professor at Duke University.

“Asians and whites tend to have longer torsos, so their centers of gravity are lower.”

“These differences are small, and we don’t really see them when we look at someone,” Bejan told Life’s Little Mysteries.

“We are only rarely struck by how long someone’s legs are.”

The height of a person’s center of gravity affects how fast his feet are moving when they hit the ground, Bejan said.

Each step a runner takes is like falling except the athlete breaks the fall with his foot. So the feet of a person with a higher center of gravity will hit the ground faster than someone with a lower center of gravity.

From a physics perspective, Bejan said, the legs do the work of running and the torso of the body is just extra weight that the legs must carry, so the race goes to the runners with longer legs and shorter torsos.

By contrast, whites tend to have the advantage in swimming, where a longer torso allows for faster speeds.

“Swimming actually generates a wave. The sport is the art of surfacing on that wave. When the wave is bigger – because the torso is longer – they go faster,” Bejan said.

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