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Olympics

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I have been pointing out since 2000 that India has been terrible at winning Olympic medals, and this seems to have been the first year that that idea has penetrated the general media consciousness. 

On the other hand, India is improving, from one medal per Olympics to a half dozen this year. In contrast, Finland, a former Olympic superpower, has fallen off a cliff from their glory days, down to three medals, none gold, this year. 

It’s hard to overstate how good F inland, despite its small population and near poverty, was at the Olympics from 1912 (when it was still a part of the Russian empire) up through 1956. It finished second in total medals at the well-attended 1924 Paris Olympics and was regularly in the top half dozen countries. They have a total of 300 medals in the Summer Olympics (and 151 in the Winter Olympics), and after the 2008 games one web page calculated they were tops all time in medals per capita. (This kind of calculation is sensitive to where you draw the bottom cutoff to keep out, say, very small countries with a single medal.)

The Finns pretty much invented “scientific” running: Paavo Nurmi was famous for running, no matter what the opposition was doing, with a stopwatch in his hand at whatever pace he’d calculated would win. Then, on the last lap, he’s toss the stopwatch on the infield grass and sprint to gold. He’d then stroll over and pick up his stopwatch and go get ready for the next event he’d win.

This national obsession with fitness helped Finland avoid complete conquest by the Soviets in the 1939-40 Winter War, which was largely an aerobically-exhausting fight of infantry in thick snow. When people talk about how awful nationalism is in the Olympics, I’d respond by pointing to Finnish nationalism. Finland is a peaceful and prosperous nation that has only been independent for 95 years. Their remarkable record in the Olympics when a new country probably helped build national unity. 

But, in 1960, their medal haul dropped into the single digits, only climbing above that in the boycotted 1984 games. A non-Finn reader speculates: 

My guess is that they are not a country with much sports diversity. Previously (until 1936) they were a superpower in T&F, especially in middle and long distance and javelin. In middle and long distance running, the east africans came and ate their lunch. They had no male javelin finalist this year, while Kenya, of all places, had one. He had trained a lot in Finland, though. A look at the wiki page of Finnish medalists since 1992 shows that most of those have medaled in old sports. In recent years, the games have diversified a lot by adding a lot of new events, but Finland has not helped itself to those opportunities, by and large. The 2nd most medaling sport for Finland is wrestling, but there they have been losing out to a growing importance of countries in the area that formerly was covered by either the old Persian Empire or Ottoman Empire.

The common theme of those events is that it is easy – conceptually – to dope for them, and Finland is probably not willing to compete in that regard.

The last superstar Olympic Finn was distance runner Lasse Viren in the 1970s who was subject to numerous allegations that he would have some of his blood stored during the off-season then would get topped off with a pint or two right before the Olympics.

Also, none of those sports pay anything unless you reach Olympic medalist status, and not all that much even then. Until the 60ies, when a lot of Finns were poor, it made sense to train hard in the off chance that the training provided a way out of the cold farm. Look at Michigan upper peninsula – a lot of finns emigrated there, and it is the only place in USA where finns dominate. It is also a cold place, and the agricultural land is not bountiful. Now, Finland itself is to a great part even bleaker. Do a google pic search of Finland before 1960. Now, Finland has undergone a huge economic leap forward, so it makes more sense to study for getting into Nokia rather than to escape the farm. That economic logic is not there for a Kenyan runner or Taijik wrestler.

Finland would do well by following the British lead. GB had their best games. medal-wise, since 1908. GB performed exceedingly well in Equestrian, rowing, and a few other sports. The commong thing about those 2 sports is that they cost quite a bit to compete in, so there are significant barriers which limit competition from poorer countries.

Finland has the sports mix of a poor country, with a 5 million population, and rich people. That is not a good combination if one wants to amass a lot of medals.

So, my guess is that modern Finns are too rich to go in all out for poor man’s sports and too recently poor to think it a great idea to spend a lot of tax or charitable money on piling up medals in rich man’s sports.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Olympics 
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From my new column in Taki’s Magazine:

I turned on the TV and saw a new reality show with an intriguing premise: How big of a head start does a white woman need to outrun a black man? While skinny women frantically raced toward the finish line, a muscular black youth sportingly spotted them a 30-meter lead, then accelerated effortlessly and overtook all but the most desperately striding Russian woman. 

But this turned out to be the Olympic 800-meter race for women, even though the silver medalist, South Africa’s Caster Semenya, is built like an LSU cornerback. 

Read the whole thing there.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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Here’s the kind of statistic that nobody else counts: on NBC’s list of 208 American Olympic medal winners, I find five Spanish surnames, or 2.4%. That’s compared to approaching 20% of the relevant age cohort is Spanish-surnamed.

1. Leo Manzano won the silver in the men’s 1500m run, which is traditionally a glamor event

2. Women’s water polo veteran Brenda Villa won a gold  – As a loyal California, I’ve tried hard to like water polo, but it’s not much of a TV sport, to say the least.

3. Marlen Esparza won a bronze in women’s boxing – no comment

4. Danell Leyva, a Cuban, won a medal in men’s gymnastics all-around, which is cool. Men’s gymnastics is awesome (here’s Epke Zonderland’s triple release routine), although it lacks the car-crash fascination of women’s gymnastics.

5. Amy Rodriguez, who is a Cameron Diaz-style half Cuban, won a gold with women’s soccer.

A bunch of other medal-winners with non-Hispanic surnames are part Hispanic, such as swimmer Ryan Lochte, whose mother is Cuban, and basketball player Carmelo Anthony whose mother is Puerto Rican. But, if you sum up all the fractions, it comes out to about the same thing as just counting surnames.

This is a particularly low percentage because Californians are traditionally so over-represented on the U.S. Olympic team.

Anyway, this points out a theme that I’ve been bringing up for a decade or more, which is the remarkable lack of high achievers among the Hispanic Tidal Wave. 

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Hispanics, Olympics, Sports 
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It’s especially amazing that the American women’s soccer team triumphed in its semifinal and final games over two countries with such long histories of soccer excellence, places where kids are dribbling soccer balls all over the favela from the time they can walk: Canada and Japan. 

The problem is that there’s nobody left for our women to beat. So, they’ll just have to start up a women’s pro soccer league, just like all the other super successful women’s team sport leagues that got launched in the excitement after the USA proved its feminist superiority by crushing disgusting sexist foreigners for gold in women’s basketball and women’s softball in 1996, women’s ice hockey in 1998, and women’s soccer in 1999.

Maybe they should form a Republican women’s soccer team and a Democratic women’s soccer team that would barnstorm around the country playing each other to see who deserves to win the election. It would be like the Blue and Green chariot racing teams in Justinian’s Byzantium. That worked out well.

But seriously, I think we should now spend a quadrillion dollars to send the U.S. women’s soccer team to Alpha Centauri so they can win the Galactic Women’s Soccer Championship over Epsilon Eridani. Man, I hate those those seven-legged freaks. They are almost as bad as the Canadians.

Hey, how about the American gold medalist in women’s boxing! How come Women’s MMA isn’t in the Olympics yet?

And what about that Aztec game where the losing team captain’s heart gets ritually torn out on top of a pyramid? It’s sexist that isn’t in the Olympics. I can think of a lot of American dad sportswriters who would volunteer at the 2016 Rio Olympics to personally rip the heart out of any foreign upstart who dares challenge the supremacy of our women’s ?llamaliztli team. USA! USA! USA!

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Olympics, Sports 
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The Chinese public has recently begun to question its government’s and media’s emphasis on winning Olympic gold medals while ignoring or castigating silver and bronze medalists. 

Indeed, there’s something bullying about the Go Gold or Go Home attitude. So, I’ve sorted the medal charts by percentage of non-gold medals won as one clue to which countries have a healthy middle-of-the-road attitude toward the Olympics, wanting to be competitive without being obsessive about Winning Is the Only Thing. The top three countries in terms of percent of medals won that are not gold are Canada (only one gold out of 16 total medals), Sweden, and Japan. At the bottom of the list is North Korea (four golds out of five). Who would you rather have as a neighbor: Canada or North Korea?

Gold Silver Bronze Total % non-Gold
Canada 1 5 10
16
94%
Sweden 1 3 3
7
86%
Japan 5 14 14
33
85%
Spain 2 7 2
11
82%
Brazil 2 2 7
11
82%
Australia 6 13 10
29
79%
Russia 12 21 23
56
79%
Romania 2 5 2
9
78%
Denmark 2 4 3
9
78%
Poland 2 1 6
9
78%
Czech Rep, 2 3 3
8
75%
Slovenia 1 1 2
4
75%
Germany 10 16 11
37
73%
France 8 9 12
29
72%
Kenya 2 2 3
7
71%
Belarus 3 3 4
10
70%
New Zealand 3 2 5
10
70%
Ukraine 3 1 6
10
70%
Netherlands 5 5 6
16
69%
Jamaica 3 3 3
9
67%
Georgia 1 1 1
3
67%
Norway 1 1 1
3
67%
Italy 7 6 6
19
63%
Cuba 3 3 2
8
63%
USA 39 25 26
90
57%
Iran 4 4 1
9
56%
China 37 24 19
80
54%
Korea 12 7 6
25
52%
Great Britain 25 13 14
52
52%
Croatia 2 1 1
4
50%
Ethiopia 2 2
4
50%
Hungary 8 4 3
15
47%
South Africa 3 1 1
5
40%
Kazakhstan 6 3
9
33%
Switzerland 2 1
3
33%
DPR Korea 4 1
5
20%

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Olympics, Sports 
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Anecdata time:

About 20 years ago, corporate America started experimenting with video-conferencing to cut down on its huge bills for travel. Face to face contact builds more camaraderie than phone contact, so why not have workers in remote offices communicate face to face via telescreen?

The problem was that, 20 years ago, the people we were used to seeing on television were people who had been hired because they would look good on TV, and then they were costumed, made up, lit, and rehearsed to look even better on TV. Nature and nurture conspiring together, as usual.

In comparison, my fellow marketing researchers on early video-conferences tended to look pretty ghastly. My reaction: My coworkers on this project look like a gang of zombies? We’re doomed. (Politely, their opinions of how I looked on video-conferencing screens were never articulated in so many words.)

Similarly, women athletes on TV aren’t typically as good looking as the high-heel-wearing spokesmodels on TV. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good looking on average. To understand this, it helps to see them in person in civilian clothes.

For example, the last Saturday night of the 1984 L.A. Olympics, I was in a frozen yogurt shop in Westwood Village, next to the athlete’s dorms, and in walked three couples from the Swedish Olympic team out on a date. 

The three girls were probably swimmers, high jumpers, something like that: tall and blonde. Plus, for a night on the town, they were wearing high heels (all about 6’1″ in heels), make-up, had their hair done, and had on stylish clothes chosen to flatter their best features (e.g., legs) and understate their features that might be a little too much (no need for those 1980s-style shoulder pads on those young ladies).

There were always a lot of beautiful young women in Westwood in the early 1980s, and while these three athletes might not have been above the 90th percentile in exquisiteness of features, they radiated so much sheer health that they were stunning.

On the other hand, these three were not recognizable stars, nobody was mobbing them for autographs, they were also-rans who didn’t give the impression that they Would Do Whatever It Takes for Gold, which often leads to some scary looks. So, that’s probably the sweet spot — Olympic qualifier but non-contender.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Olympics, Sports 
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Q. What’s the oddest thing about Jamaican 100 meter sprinter Usain Bolt?
A. Although Bolt epitomizes West African-descended sprinting talent, he has the face of an East African distance runner. (Here’s a picture of Bolt with his more conventional-looking Jamaican rival Yohan Blake.) Nobody seems to know why Bolt looks like an immense Kenyan.
Q. How much of the track success of former British colonies like Jamaica and Kenya originates in British Chariots of Fire-style sporting culture?
A. A fair amount. It’s taken ex-colonies of other European countries much longer to catch on. For example, the Dominican Republic, which isn’t lacking in athletic talent as its baseball success shows, has only recently become an Olympic power in the long sprints and hurdles. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you can buy PEDs in the Dominican Republic without a prescription.)
On the other hand, ex-colonies tend to take what they like and forget the rest. For instance, although the South Asian countries remain heavily influenced in some ways by the British Raj (for example, India represents one of the world’s leading concentrations of P.G. Wodehouse fans), South Asians are the world’s least interested in sports – except for that most Wodehousian of English games, cricket.
Q. Some black women took to Twitter to criticize gymnast Gabby Douglas for not having expensively processed hair like they do. In contrast, black women sprinters, such as 400m gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross, often wear extravagant hairdos, jewelry, or nails. (Remember Florence Griffith-Joyner’s and Gail Devers’s jeweled claws?) How come?
A. Compared to gymnasts (or to swimmers or long-distance runners), sprinters have a lot of time on their hands. Endless workouts don’t help much. For example, to get ready to win four gold medals at the 1984 Olympics, Carl Lewis worked out eight hours per week (not per day, but eight per week). Thus, Lewis had time to become a disco star in Japan, and Richards-Ross appears to have had everything imaginable done to her hair, plus that of whichever lady in India grew her weave.
Personally, I am happy that sprinters don’t have to train five hours per day like Michael Phelps did. I like the old tradition of the sportsman, the notion that competing can be part of a non-monastic life. 
Q. You say that Southern California’s long history of sports success is suspect due to its proximity to Muscle Beach. Hey, America’s sweetheart, 200m runner Allyson Felix, grew up in Southern California!
A. I think it’s fair to say that Felix has, over the years, resisted more temptation than most people could withstand. She’s twice lost the 200m Olympic gold medal to massive Jamaican women. So far, she hasn’t totally Jeterized herself. While Jeter signed up with John Smith, the Dark Side of sprint coaching, Felix recently teamed with Bob Kersee, who has somehow remained the respectable face of muscularity over a long career coaching his wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee, his in-law the late Florence Griffith-Joyner, Gail Devers, and Shawn Crawford.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Olympics, Sports 
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My new Taki’s Magazine column consists of the answers to a bunch of made-up questions I asked myself about the Olympics.

Q. An NBC segment showed muscular American 100M silver medalist Carmelita Jeter working out under shadowy veteran coach John Smith on Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Is that a reassuring sign? 

A. No. The Santa Monica-Venice area has been Muscle Beach since the 1930s and a hotbed of steroid use for a half-century or more. (In general, Southern California’s fabulous athletic history—such as O. J. Simpson’s 1968 Heisman Trophy and world record in a sprint relay—should come with a big asterisk.) 

Read the whole thing there.

By the way, Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard has been just about the only journalist interested in researching the pre-history of the Steroids Era. As we all know, there were a lot of dirty rotten cheaters recently, but the sporting heroes of our youths (whenever our youths may have been) were pure as the driven snow  But, Karlgaard has repeatedly asked, how do we know that? If you are under 60, how do you know that your favorite athlete of your youth wasn’t a pioneer?

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Olympics, Sports 
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From the New York Times:

Perfectly Captivating for Their Imperfections
By SAM BORDEN 

The United States women’s soccer team is not a Dream Team. It can’t be. After all, Dream Teams don’t have “nightmares,” as Abby Wambach grimly described last summer’s shootout loss to Japan in the World Cup final. 

It is strange then how many and how widely the Americans continually captivate. Typically, fans in the United States fall in love with the fresh, new face — think the gymnast Gabby Douglas and the swimmer Missy Franklin — or become obsessed with a team based on dominance and power and might. The Olympic men’s basketball teams are made up of N.B.A. mercenaries, yes, but they are almost always effective mercenaries. They throttle. They pummel. They thump. 

The women’s soccer team does not, or at least it has not as often over the past few years. An Olympic team of veterans — only one player was not on the World Cup roster — the Americans are neither new blood nor the types who routinely bloody, and yet they are perhaps the most universally embraced group of Americans playing team sports. … But what is the greatest allure of the Americans? The attraction, it seems, lies in their flaws. Unlike the basketball Dream Teams and unlike their sporting ancestors, the commanding women’s soccer squads of the 1990s, the current incarnation is gloriously imperfect.

Let me guess … sports reporter Sam Borden has a daughter whom he loves very much.

I wrote about the sociology of why nice white people love the U.S. women’s soccer team so much (and would never ever mention its lack of ethnic diversity) last year for VDARE:

Female soccer embodies many of the most deeply-held values of white American upper middle class families: gender equality; parental (especially paternal) investment in their children; organized practice instead of play; ambitions for college scholarships; tacit race and class segregation via spending; and chauffeuring … lots and lots of chauffeuring.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Olympics, Sports 
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Economist Tyler Cowen has an article in Grantland predicting long-run trends in Summer Olympic medals totals based on population growth rates, age, and income. Cowen explains:

Economists have taken time out of their busy schedules of destroying the world to provide insights into which factors help make countries successful in their bids for Olympic glory. 

The first factor is population. If athletic ability is roughly equally distributed around the globe, the more citizens you have, the more great athletes you are likely to have.

“If athletic ability is roughly equally distributed around the globe” then Tyler must be watching different Olympics than I have been watching since the 1960s. (Here’s my summary of the impact of human biodiversity on the 2008 Olympics.) There’s a less derisible way to phrase the notion that Tyler wants to make: “The more citizens you have, all else being equal, the more great athletes you are likely to have.” No need to assert a hypothesis that’s obviously sizably untrue, just trot out ceteris paribus, front and center.

It stands to reason, for example, that Australia will likely win more medals than New Zealand, simply because it has five times the population.

And that’s why India wins 50 times as many medals as Australia. And then, as jody reminds us, there’s always Bangladesh, population 150,000,000. From Wikipedia’s striking article “Bangladesh at the Olympics:”

Bangladesh has competed in seven Summer Olympic Games. They have never competed in the Winter Games. 

No Bangladeshi competitor has ever qualified for the Olympics; the country sends representatives to the Games thanks to the wildcard process.[1] Bangladesh is the most populous country in the world never to have won an Olympic medal. 

Not only no medals, but “No Bangladeshi competitor has ever qualified for the Olympics …”

It looks to me more like the countries that win a lot of medals are the countries that A) want to win a lot of medals and B) are pretty competent at what they do. The East Germans used to win a lot of medals, for example, but then, they’d almost conquered the world. Compared to invading Poland, systematically doping their women swimmers was child’s play. 

Moreover, it helps to have a lot of power and tradition to get your favorite sports treated well by the Olympics. You’ll notice, for instance, that the Olympics hand out a ton of swimming medals, which benefit the U.S. and Australia in the medal counts. In track, there are medals for running and a couple for walking, but in swimming there are medals for four separate strokes, even though one, the butterfly is obviously inferior to the crawl (freestyle) on all dimensions. It’s like if they gave out gold medals in track for a couple of silly walks choreographed by John Cleese.

From Cowen’s summary on his blog:

1. Medal totals will become more diversified over time. The market share of the “top 10? countries will continue to fall (it was 81 percent in 1988) as economic and population growth slows in the rich world. The developing world has greater room for rapid economic growth, and most parts of the developing world also have higher population growth. The Olympic playing field will get more and more level. 

That’s an easy prediction to make. My guess is that it will be less true than Cowen thinks. My prediction is that there will be a countervailing trend. In some ways, the Summer Olympics will become even more like the Winter Olympics: a refuge for the global upper middle class, who have the resources to pick obscure sports for their scions and then pay for intensive tutoring as a path to get them into American colleges.

In contrast, the burgeoning ranks of the global poor, will obsess over a handful of big money sports, especially soccer in Africa, but also cricket in South Asia, neither one of which is a good way to pile up a lot of Olympic medals. The word “diversity” tends to freeze the brains of people these days, but an obvious global cultural trend is away from diversity in sports toward soccer uber alles.

Most of the major sports in the world today were institutionalized by English-speakers. The Victorian Anglosphere had the right combination of eccentricity, cooperativeness, fair-play, and cultural prestige to impose their favorite games upon the world. There was a second efflorescence centered in post-War California that’s now institutionalized in the X Games. Today’s global poor are unlikely to have a similar creative impact. They are more likely to be followers rather than innovators in sport.

Many of today’s Olympic sports will increasingly become museum pieces that will remain alive because wealthy people like the idea of their kind of people having an opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal.

2. Japan will continue to fade, mostly because of aging and population shrinkage. 

Actually, rather than continuing to fade like it did in 1988 through 2000, Japan made a big comeback in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. After finishing no higher than 14th in total medals from 1988 through 2000, Japan finished 5th and 8th in the last two Olympics.  This is continuing today, with Japan having 24 medals already in 2012.

The Japanese will always have the problem that they are rather small in stature, but I have this vague hunch that the particular Japanese problems in the late 20th Century were twofold: the rise of China brought them added competition in events friendly to their racial physiology; second, they once seemed to have a lot psychological with choking, perhaps caused by the growth of suffocating media pressure in Japan. An American friend who has taught college in Japan for decades wrote me in 2000:

When Japanese athletes compete in the Olympics they feel they are representing, not only their country, but also their race and all its members. When a Japanese is leading in a race the announcer’s voice becomes flushed with emotion. When interviewed after competition, swimmers and judo-ists say they can’t remember what happened, so great was their emotion. In fact in the moments leading up to a competition, Japanese seem almost paralyzed by nervousness. They are not competing for themselves, but for their coach, their team, their family, and everyone. If they win, it was not because of their own effort, but because of everyone’s support. Their greatest emotion then is relief from the relentless pressure. If they lose, they have let everyone down. They cannot be good sportsmen and congratulate their opponents with a smile because their minds are elsewhere thinking about how they will apologize to their supporters.

Perhaps the Japanese are learning to deal with this kind of pressure better.

3. Italy will follow Japan for similar demographic reasons, as well as because the Eurozone crisis will continue to cut into budgets, training and otherwise.

Perhaps, but Italy has had low birth rates for awhile, and yet their Olympic medal performance has been better in the last four Summer Olympics than in 1988-1992. I’m not saying that the general mechanism Cowen identifies isn’t a factor, just that if you are going to cite two examples — Japan and Italy — you ought to bother to go to Wikipedia and find examples that have actually been in decline already. It makes your argument sound more plausible.

4. Since Rio is host to the next Olympics, Brazil should do better than expected due to the “pre-host” bump.

Maybe, but Brazil is close to the ultimate in soccer obsession. We’ll see. The home country bump mostly has to do with host countries investing in boring minor sports to pick up easy medals (especially doubly easy women’s medals). We’ll see if the Brazilians care enough to bother.

5. Many African nations will rise. Currently about half of the approximately 1 billion people in Africa have a cell phone, and the middle class is growing. The chance that an African star will be spotted and trained at the appropriate age is much higher than before. Africa also continues to grow in population, and that means lots of young people. Most of us still think of African nations as very poor, but infant mortality has been falling and per-capita income rising across Africa for the better part of a decade now.

Is there much evidence that African countries are getting better at winning men’s Olympic medals? Sure, it sounds plausible in theory, but where’s the evidence? Ethiopia has been winning distance running medals since 1960 and Kenya since 1964, so this isn’t exactly a hot, late-breaking trend. In the sprints, the African Diaspora continues to do better than African themselves.

Nigeria, for example, started getting better at wining Olympic medals in 1992, but it still only averages three medals per Summer Olympics in this century, which isn’t much for a country with 162 million West Africans. In contrast, Cuba has averaged 27 medals per Olympics in this century. Cuba wins a lot of medals because it’s a totalitarian state with a sports-crazed dictator who is still waging the Cold War. Plus, it’s a country with a lot of West African-descended athletes but the system is mostly run by white people, kind of like the SEC in college football.

My guess is that as more Africans get television in their homes, they’ll become even more obsessed with soccer and the World Cup rather than with the Olympics. Soccer experts have been predicting a major African breakthrough in the World Cup for a long time now, but it hasn’t happened yet.

6. China will level off and then decline as a medal powerhouse. In less than 15 years, the typical person living in China is likely to be older on average than the typical person living in the United States, in part due to the country’s one-child policy.

I think it will depend upon whether the Chinese state keeps pushing Olympic medals for nationalistic reasons. Even if they don’t, the Chinese upper middle class might intelligently exploit obscure Olympic events as a way into American colleges. A big question is whether the Chinese will continue to get taller, making them more competitive in tall person’s sports like swimming.

I’ll make a lame prediction: the easy way to win medals is in women’s events. Various countries and cultures will exploit this, although in an unpredictable fashion. In general, rich countries have pushed hard for adding more medals for women to pad their own totals. If the Olympics still had the same distribution of events as in, say, 1952, poor countries would win a larger percentage of medals. Training women for some obscure macho sport is a luxury that only rich countries and dictatorships can do.

One interesting question is what impact demographic trends will have on the U.S. Down through history, U.S. medal totals have been heavily carried by Californians, either natives or students / alumni of UCLA, USC, Stanford, etc. In 2008, Sports Illustrated counted 175 Californians on the U.S. Olympic team, versus 176 from the next seven states combined.

There are lots of reasons for this: California and Australia are similarly outdoorsy. California’s culture has always been open to eccentric sports. California was a center of innovation in performance enhancing drugs going back to the 1950s. L.A. hosted summer Olympics in 1932 and 1984.

The new populations in California, however, aren’t terribly athletic, however. There are 50,000,000 Latinos in the U.S. but they comprise only a small % of the U.S. Olympic team. Similarly, Mexico is a long term underachiever both in the Olympics and the World Cup, relative to its large population (113,000,000 within the borders of Mexico alone) and moderate income. And this is despite hosting both the 1968 Olympics and the 1986 World Cup.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Olympics, Sports 
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India is off to a relatively good start in the 2012 summer Olympics, with a single bronze medal so far. Granted, the other giga-country, China, has 34 total medals. But that one bronze puts India roughly on pace to come close to its total of 3 medals in 2008 and beat its totals of one medal in each of the 2004 and 2000 Olympics.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: India, Olympics 
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Back in 2005, Michael Blowhard offered the best explanation I’ve heard in response to the perpetual heterosexual male question about why fashion models look like fashion models (i.e., tall, bony) rather than like strippers. All those 5’10″ 120 pound Slovakians in the ads in women’s magazines appeal to female readers’ fantasies about being more gravity resistant, about being less weighted down by mortal flesh:

My own modest theory is that fashion magazines are to women what magazines about computers (and porno) are to guys — they’re fantasy books. It’s just that women’s fantasies — many women’s fantasies, anyway — concern being photographed (ie., desired) and looking glamorous (ie., desirable). Where guys seem to enjoy imagining what they’d do to and with what’s in the picture, women seem prone to imagine being what’s pictured. 

There’s an additional fantasy element too, which is autonomy. Part of what women fashion-magazine fans seem to enjoy imagining is the fantasy of being found glamorous purely for its own sake. They seem to want to forget about the pleasing-guys element. There’s a little defiance in the fantasy — and you can see the defiance in many of the kicky poses and attitudes the models strike. 

Perhaps something that helps explain the appeal of these images is that not only do many women enjoy imagining looking like these models, they enjoy imagining feeling like them too. I think guys often forget what a weighty and earthbound thing it can be, being a gal. There’s so much dreariness to contend with: fatbags, hormones, moods, emotional agonies, etc. Women are weighed down by a lot of burdens, or at least they feel that they are, which is good enough for the purposes of my attempt at an explanation here. 

The gals in the pages of fashion magazines and catalogs aren’t weighed down by anything, not even flesh. They burst out of cabs, they leap onto sidewalks, they let loose with irrepressible guffaws, they’re caught by insistent cameras looking their klutzy-but-charming best; they’re tall and slim, and they’re feelin’ good and they’re lookin’ ready to dazzle. The girls in the pix get to enjoy the champagne-and-cocaine fun parts of being a grownup woman. They aren’t saddled with fat asses and wobbly upper arms, with PMS, with no-good boyfriends and lecherous bosses, with imperfect features, with senseless mood swings, etc. 

What the fashion mags are selling is, to some extent, a fantasy of play and freedom. 

Which, come to think of it, is (in a general sense) pretty much what men’s magazines sell too. Many guys enjoy indulging in fantasies about utopia — a male utopia full of gadgets and sex-without-consequences. Many gals love indulging in fantasies about utopia too — a female utopia, where the fantasizer is carefree and irresistably desirable 24/7. 

My hunch: perhaps superslim-and-supertall are a visual representation of carefree-and-desirable.

By the way, that suggests an insight into why fashion models almost always say in interviews that they were tomboys who weren’t interested in clothes and makeup when they were young. It’s because it’s sort of true. Females tend to stop growing in height at puberty, so very tall women tend to be the ones who reached puberty later, and thus kept growing for an extra year or two in adolescence, which is the time period they remember.

Gymnastics in the Olympics offers its huge number of female viewers a similar fantasy of weightlessness, but in a more presexual version of Twirling Tweens. It’s a contest to identify the World’s Best Pixie, just as the Winter Olympics figure skating finds the World’s Best Princess.

Indeed, the Olympics had to impose a minimum age limit of 16 to keep the event from being dominated by little girls (Nadia Comaneci, for instance, was 14 in 1976 when she won all those gold medals). Not surprisingly, most of the winning American team this year is 16. Adult women are built more for comfort than speed.

Gymnastics currently seems to select for girls who, like fashion models, go through puberty late, but who, unlike models, stay short.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Olympics, Sports 
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Here’s a 2010 study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine making the same point about a wide array of Olympic events that I made about track in my 1997 National Review article:

WOMEN AND MEN IN SPORT PERFORMANCE: THE GENDER GAP HAS NOT EVOLVED SINCE 1983 

Valérie Thibault, Marion Guillaume, Geoffroy Berthelot, Nour El Helou, Karine Schaal, Laurent Quinquis, Hala Nassif, Muriel Tafflet, Sylvie Escolano, Olivier Hermine and Jean-François. Toussaint 

© Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2010) 9, 214 – 223 

ABSTRACT   

Sex is a major factor influencing best performances and world records. Here the evolution of the difference between men and women’s best performances is characterized through the analysis of 82 quantifiable events since the beginning of the Olympic era. For each event in swimming, athletics, track cycling, weightlifting and speed skating the gender gap is fitted to compare male and female records. It is also studied through the best performance of the top 10 performers in each gender for swimming and athletics. A stabilization of the gender gap in world records is observed after 1983, at a mean difference of 10.0% ± 2.94 between men and women for all events. The gender gap ranges from 5.5% (800-m freestyle, swimming) to 18.8% (long jump). The mean gap is 10.7% for running performances, 17.5% for jumps, 8.9% for swimming races, 7.0% for speed skating and 8.7% in cycling. The top ten performers’ analysis reveals a similar gender gap trend with a stabilization in 1982 at 11.7%, despite the large growth in participation of women from eastern and western countries, that coincided with later- published evidence of state-institutionalized or individual doping. These results suggest that women will not run, jump, swim or ride as fast as men.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Feminism, Olympics, Sports 
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Back in the 1990s, I frequently read that women athletes were Closing the Gap with men; if trends continued, in the 21st Century Olympics, women would be just as fast as men. So, I did a big quantitative study on the size of the gender gap in track in all Olympics for a 1997 article in National Review entitled Track and Battlefield:

Everybody knows that the “gender gap” in physical performance between male and female athletes is rapidly narrowing. Moreover, in an opinion poll just before the 1996 Olympics, 66% claimed “the day is coming when top female athletes will beat top males at the highest competitive levels.” The most publicized scientific study supporting this belief appeared in Nature in 1992: “Will Women Soon Outrun Men?” Physiologists Susan Ward and Brian Whipp pointed out that since the Twenties women’s world records in running had been falling faster than men’s. Assuming these trends continued, men’s and women’s marathon records would equalize by 1998, and during the early 21st Century for the shorter races. 

This is not sports trivia. Whether the gender gap in athletic performance stems from biological differences between men and women, or is simply a social construct imposed by the Male Power Structure, is highly relevant both to fundamental debates about the malleability of human nature, as well as to current political controversies such as the role of women in the military. 

When everybody is so sure of something, it’s time to update the numbers. 

I discovered, however, that the narrowing was only up through 1988. The fall of the Berlin Wall and better testing for artificial male hormones had caused the Olympic track gender gap to grow from the 1988 Olympics to the 1996 Olympics. 

Slowly, my argument has carried the field over the last 15 years. Thus, when a Chinese woman swam the last 50m of her race on Saturday night faster than Ryan Lochte, the men’s gold medalist, swam his last 50m of the men’s version of the race, the New York Times reporter did not celebrate it as a Breakthrough for Female Equality, but instead treated it as presumptive evidence of something fishy going on:

China Pool Prodigy Churns Wave of Speculation
By JERÉ LONGMAN 

At 16, the Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen is one of the youngest competitors in the Olympics and so far the most remarkable. What she has done in the pool is the water-based equivalent of what Usain Bolt did on the track four years ago in Beijing. 

On Saturday night, Ye not only shattered the world record in the 400 individual medley, winning gold in 4 minutes 28.43 seconds, she also swam the final 50 meters faster than Ryan Lochte did in winning the men’s race.

It was really a little less amazing than it sounds — Lochte was apparently taking it easy on the last length after blowing away the field earlier. But still …

On Monday, Ye returned to the pool and set an Olympic record of 2:08.39 in the semifinals of the 200 individual medley, her best event. 

There is nothing to indicate that she is anything more than a great swimmer from a country that holds about a fifth of the world’s population, a teenager who relies on the latest scientific training and the kind of adolescent certainty that makes her unaware of any limitations. The Chinese have pledged to obey the rules. And Ye dismissed any concerns about doping. 

Yet women’s swimming does not permit itself naïve and untempered adulation. Not after the systematic East German doping of the 1970s and ’80s. Not after Chinese scandals in the 1990s. Not after Michelle Smith of Ireland won four medals at the Atlanta Games in 1996 under disputed circumstances and was later barred from competition for tampering with a urine sample. 

The response to unsurpassed achievement now falls somewhere uncomfortably between amazement and incredulity, that gray area between celebration and suspicion. 

“That’s pretty unbelievable,” David Sharpe, a Canadian swimmer, said of Ye’s finishing kick on Saturday, in which she covered her final 50 meters in 28.93, faster than Lochte’s 29.10. “No one really understands how that happened.” 

Ye swam her final 100 meters of the 400 I.M. in 58.68 seconds. Lochte was only three-hundredths of a second faster. No one could immediately remember a woman closing faster than 61 seconds. 

“Interesting,” said Natalie Coughlin, an American with 12 Olympic medals.
“Insane,” said Stephanie Rice of Australia, the 2008 Olympic champion and former world-record holder in the 400 I.M. “Fifty-eight is out of control.” 

Lochte made a cordial joke about being outkicked. On Monday, Michael Phelps, who finished fourth in the men’s 400 I.M., smiled at a question about Ye’s closing speed and said: “She almost outswam me, too. We were all pretty shocked. It’s pretty impressive that she went that fast.” 

No swimmers accused Ye, who is 5 feet 8 inches and weighs 141 pounds, of using illicit substances to fuel her kick. Medalists and, at random, other athletes are tested at the Games. 

But John Leonard, an American who is executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association and has long voiced suspicions of doping in China, told The Guardian on Monday that he found Ye’s performance “disturbing.” 

Caitlin Leverenz, an American who finished third in Ye’s heat in the 200 on Monday, said: “The Chinese have had a history in the past of doping, so I don’t think people are crazy to point fingers, but I don’t think that’s my job to do right now. I’m just trying to do my best.” 

Frank Busch, national team director for USA Swimming, was more gracious, calling Ye’s final 100 meters on Saturday “more than remarkable, phenomenal.” 

Was he concerned that what Ye had done was not legitimate? 

“I would never go there,” Busch said.

Fifteen years ago, this healthy skepticism would have been rare.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Feminism, Olympics, Sports 
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Nate Silver, a baseball statistics analyst turned electoral analyst, has an article in the NYT Magazine entitled “Let’s Play Medalball.”

It’s been almost a decade since the publication of “Moneyball,” Michael Lewis’s famous book-turned-movie about how the small-market Oakland Athletics used statistical artistry to compete against their (much) richer rivals. Billy Beane is still the A’s general manager, but here’s a modest proposal for his next act. He could become the head of another budget-strapped sports organization like, say, the Olympic Committee of Kyrgyzstan — or another small-market country with limited resources. Bishkek is nice this time of year! 

How might Beane turn “moneyball” into “medalball”? Channeling him, I’ve identified three measures that, when weighted equally, suggest the sports in which the Kyrgyzstans of the world could direct their energy and resources to maximize their medal count.

The underlying problem with Silver’s suggestions is a lack of cynicism. Anybody familiar with Olympic history would realize that lots of countries have tried to maximize medals over the years, often with much success.
The most obvious strategy is one followed by East Germany and China: it’s much easier to win medals in women’s events. Outside of gymnastics and a few other sports, the number of girls who, deep down inside, really want to do what it takes to win is smaller. So, focus on macho sports for women, such as women’s weightlifting.
I recall an interview with a lady shotputter from China at a recent Olympics. She said she’d always wanted to be a veterinarian when she was a child, but a bunch of state athletic experts came to her elementary school, measured all the children in various ways, and then told her she was going to grow up to be a shotputter. She didn’t want to be a shotputter, she wanted to be a veterinarian, but nobody cared about her opinion. So, now she was a lady shotputter.
Women’s Olympic sports are full of uplifting and empowering stories like that.
Also, as East Germany demonstrated, giving your women lots of male hormones helps more than giving your men lots of male hormones.
For sports, such as “women’s” gymnastics that have a minimum age for female competitors, because T&A slows down how fast a girl can spin, lie (as China does).
It also helps to have a totalitarian system. For example, Cuba is a poor country, but it wins lots of Olympic medals. One reason is because the government channels youths into various Olympic sports, instead of letting them all play soccer like in other countries. Cuba is too small to win the soccer World Cup, but it can win gold at less popular sports.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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From the L.A. Times:

Is talking about slave eugenics a fireable offense? It depends.

By Dan Turner 

When Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder opined about slavery, eugenics and black American athletes, it ended his career as a sports commentator on CBS. When American Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson made similar comments to a British newspaper, it left some wondering whether he’d face the same fate — Johnson, too, works as a sports commentator, for the BBC. 

The answer is, probably not. That’s because Johnson, unlike Snyder, is African American and thus can say things about African Americans that whites can’t …

And so forth and so on.

Americans aren’t very censorious about sex anymore, so what we get titillated and censorious about now is talking about race. But, that keeps us from actually thinking much about race. Nobody has much investigated the Snyder-Johnson hypothesis.

How much evidence is there for genetic selection of blacks in the New World? Let’s look at the simplest relevant database for evaluating the Snyder-Johnson theory: Wikipedia’s list of the 83 men who have run 100m in faster than 10 seconds. Of those 83, 81 are of at least partial black African descent, and most top New World sprinters are very African looking (i.e., not very admixed with other races — e.g, Carl Lewis. So is Michael Johnson, for that matter, although he wasn’t a 100m man.) All that’s pretty good evidence that black African genes help. 

Out of those 81, I count 14 runners born and raised in Africa. That 14 includes 12 running for African countries and two who grew up in West Africa but run as adults for Norway or Qatar.

My basic assumption is that in most complex situations nature and nurture are of roughly similar importance. North America and the West Indies have better nurture than Africa, so it’s hardly surprising that a majority of black nine second men are from the Diaspora rather than from Africa. (Of course, in the short run, drugs matter: Jamaica’s rise relative to the U.S. from 2004 to 2008 stemmed largely from America finally cracking down on drugs — e.g., Marion Jones going to prison — but Jamaica not. But, in the long run, this tends to work out.)

The West African figures aren’t as impressive as the 38 from the U.S., 11 from Jamaica, and five from Trinidad. Yet, excluding American and West Indian blacks, Nigeria leads the world with eight men under 10 seconds. In other words, Nigeria has four times as many sub 10 second men as the entire 6 billion people who aren’t black African by ancestry.

So, from this data I can’t reject my null hypothesis that blacks in the English-speaking New World are pretty much the same genetically as their distant cousins in West Africa, but just benefit from an environment more conducive to super-fast sprinting. But I can’t confirm it either: the data fall right about where either notion is plausible but not persuasive.

Einstein said that explanations should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. The 100m dash data is congruent with a model with two, possibly three major factors:

- Nature — On average, blacks tend to be faster runners for , especially men of West African descent in the sprints, the shorter the better.

- Nurture — On average, the environment (defined broadly to include health, wealth, coaching, shoes, organization, drug test evasion sophistication, etc.) is better for sprinters in North America and the West Indies than in Africa.

What I can’t tell is whether we need a third factor, which is differences in nature (genes) between West Africans and their distant cousins in the northern part of the New World. Because I don’t see an obvious mechanism for selecting for faster sprinters, and because it’s not obvious we need to find one, I’m not enthusiastic about this hypothesized third factor. But I can’t totally reject it either.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Olympics, Race, Sports 
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Track and field is interesting because its demands are simple enough that human biodiversity stands out pretty clearly. But after awhile it gets kind of dull because the same old same old demographic patterns keep showing up. (Here’s my VDARE article on human biodiversity in track up through the closse of the 2008 Olympics.)

Hence, it’s fun when some rare diversity shows up among the top performers.

For example, last year Christophe Lemaitre of France became the first white man and second non-sub-Saharan African to record a time in the 100m dash in the 9.XX second range by running 9.98. (A half Australian Aborigine – half Irishman once ran a 9.93 and a Pole once ran a 9.997, which was rounded up to 10.00.)

Lemaitre is a 21-year-old country boy from Savoy who had never tried sprinting until he was 15, when the French had a national competition to find the fastest 15 year old at 50 meters. He got timed at a fair and it turned out to be the fastest mark in the country.

Lemaitre appears to be the real deal. He’s broken 10.00 five more times, including a pair of 9.95s. In 2012 in London, will he become the first man since 1980 not from West Africa or Southwest Africa (Frankie Fredericks of Namibia) to make the Olympic 100m dash 8-man final? Right now, his 9.95 makes him only the tenth fastest man in 2011. On the other hand, most of those who are faster are Jamaicans and one country can only enter three contestants in the 100m. Also, some of those Jamaicans might get caught. 
The Americans used to be very big in sprints (here are some pictures of an American sprinter who used to be very big), but after the 2004 Olympics, they started more rigorous drug testing while the Jamaicans didn’t, and now Jamaicans win everything. 
Right now, Lemaitre looks like a very healthy young man. If he shows up in 2012 looking like a plastic action figure with giant biceps, however, and runs a 9.75 to medal, well, it would be a big whoop-tee-doo, but I’d be happier if he showed up looking human and ran in the low 9.9s.
Another candidate to break the West African lock on the 100m finals is a Zimbabwean named Ngonidzashe Makusha, who ran 9.89 at the NCAA finals. Zimbabwe is more or less in Southeast Africa.
In women’s sprinting, where the records are out of reach, the big story is, as usual, American Allyson Felix, who lost out on individual gold medals in the 2000 in 2004 and 2008 to Jamaican women with biceps twice the circumference of her own. Felix should be the beau ideal of African-American respectable middle class young ladyhood, so it’s always compelling to see whether she can finally win an individual gold medal her way or whether she’ll go over to the Dark Side and show up in 2012 massive like her rivals. This year, she’s concentrating more on the 400m and has the best time of the year in it. I wish her well.
Meanwhile, in distance running, which is dominated by East Africans and Northwest Africans, Chris Solinsky of Wisconsin became in 2010 the first non-African to run 10,000 meters in under 27:00. Also, at 6′-1″ and 165 pounds, he’s built like a high school quarterback. He’s the tallest and heaviest runner ever to break 27:00.

The endless miles of training for distance running puts a lot of pounding on the knees, so it’s usually dominated by short ectomorphs. That’s why Parris Island Marine Corp drill instructors aren’t usually the intimidating giants seen in movies. Instead, they tend to be feisty little guys whose knees can take all the pounding of the running they do in boot camp. 

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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Commenters ask why I haven’t had anything to say about the U.S. gold medal in men’s basketball. I haven’t had anything new to say because I said it all in my American Conservative article right after the 2004 Athens Olympics:

Perhaps the most important event of the [2004] Olympics will turn out to be the failure of the once untouchable U.S. Olympic basketball team, an all-black squad of physically gifted NBA stars that was beaten by better-shooting and more collaborative teams from Argentina, Lithuania, and even Puerto Rico.

In the 1970s stereotype, white American players were the dogged defenders, while blacks were the flashy scorers. Then, the John Thompson-Patrick Ewing teams at Georgetown U. made defense fashionable among blacks, leading to a great leap forward in the quality of NBA play that culminated with the incomparable 1992 Olympic Dream Team. Unfortunately, the trend went too far and many blacks lost interest in working on their outside shooting, which proved disastrous in Athens.

Darryl Dawkins, the former NBA center who called himself “Chocolate Thunder,” has become an insightful minor league coach. “Black basketball is much more individualistic,” he told Charlie Rosen of FoxSports. “With so many other opportunities closed to young black kids, … if somebody makes you look bad with a shake-and-bake move, then you’ve got to come right back at him with something better, something more stylish… It’s all about honor, pride, and establishing yourself as a man.”

Dawkins, whose showboating Philadelphia 76ers lost to Bill Walton’s Portland Trailblazers in an epic 1977 NBA Finals confrontation between the black and white games, now says, “The black game by itself is too chaotic and much too selfish… White culture places more of a premium on winning, and less on self-indulgent preening and chest-beating.”

Arguing that the best teams combine both styles, Dawkins pointed out, “In basketball and in civilian life, freedom without structure winds up being chaotic and destructive.”

With luck, this Olympic embarrassment will serve as a wake-up call to African-American males that gangsta rap attitudes are needlessly undermining not just black basketball, but also the race as a whole.

The NBA got the message that the Americans had to stop playing like rap stars and start playing again like a basketball team.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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Before everybody gets completely bored with track again for the next 3 years and 11.5 months, I’m putting out in public my Excel spreadsheet [LINK FIXED] listing the 200 fastest times ever for the ten main lengths with the race of each runner denoted. This database provided the basis for the graphs in last night’s VDARE column on running and the Olympics.

I put in some hours looking up photos of runners on Google Images, so the racial identifications are pretty accurate, but I invite anybody interested to put corrections in the comments here. Generally speaking, there are fewer ambiguous cases than you’d expect: African-American 100 meter men, for example, tend to be very black. Perhaps the most ambiguous cases came right where my theory predicts — with the 1980s Brazilian 800m man Joaquin Cruz (I’m guessing he’s half white and half black) and with the 1970s Cuban champion at 400m and 800m Alberto Juantorena (I put him down as all white, but I could be wrong).

Most of the top runners representing Persian Gulf states are hired Kenyans or Moroccans (although Saudi Arabia has one native born runner make the list).

I did the same analysis back in 1997, although just for the 100 at each length. You can download it from this page. Not too much has changed over 11 years. Mostly the patterns have intensified as the Kenyans and other Africans have become even more dominant.

One thing that caught my eye in 1997 was that the domination of the 400m by men of West African descent seemed unnaturally excessive. In 1997, there was too steep a falloff in West African black domination from 400m, where West African blacks were then overwhelming, to 800m, where blacks were merely competitive. The subsequent emergence of a white Texan, Jeremy Wariner, who won gold in 2004 and silver in 2008 (and ran a very fast anchor leg on the Olympic record setting mile relay team), as one of the greatest 400m men ever suggests that my skepticism in 1997 was correct: American whites were being kept out of some degree of 400m success due to stereotypes that weren’t quite as valid as they had appeared.

I think what was going on with the 400m was this: the 400m has traditionally been an event dominated by Americans. The U.S. has won the gold medal in 19 of the 26 Olympics, and over half the total medals. (The U.S. swept the men’s 400m in Beijing.) I’m not sure why this is. The mile relay (4×400 meters) was traditionally the final event at American high school and college track meets, so perhaps Americans put more emphasis on it. Or perhaps the typical admixture of black and white genes found in African-Americans is about right for the 400m.

In any case, the event remained integrated at the U.S. Olympic team level up through 1964 when a 30-year-old white math teacher from LA named Michael Larrabee won the 400m in Tokyo. In 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics, however, the U.S. swept the 400m with three blacks running amazing times (two of them under 44 seconds). Lee Evans set a world record that lasted until the mid-1980s, and the 4×400 relay mark wasn’t even equaled until 1988.

In reality, the many famous Mexico City records (such as Bob Beamon’s 29′-2″ long jump and Jimmy Hines’s 9.95 100m) weren’t as great as they seemed in the 1970s: less air resistance at 7300 feet altitude met faster times at events shorter than, say, 1500 meters. But 1968 set a cultural template in the U.S.: the 400m was a black event.

After all, people reasoned, it’s a sprint, so it’s black. Actually, it’s a “long sprint,” four times the distance of the 100m, just as the 800m is a short middle distance event, but people like to put things in boxes, so Americans saw the 400 as a black sprint while they saw the 800 as Dave Wottle’s mostly white event. The reality is a quantitative continuum, but people don’t like to think numerically, they like to think in terms of Platonic essences. Similarly, when Jeremy Wariner won the gold in the 400m in 2004, lots of pundits announced that that “shattered the stereotype” that whites can’t sprint.

Meanwhile, other countries that didn’t put as much emphasis on the 400m continued to have a moderate amount of success with white 400m men, whether they were an all-white country like Australia (whose Darren Clark finished 4th in the 400 in 1984 and 1988) or even if they had black 100m sprinters, such as Cuba with Juantorena and Britain with Roger Black and Iwan Thomas in more recent years.

So, it wasn’t surprising when Wariner emerged (and, to a lesser extent Andrew Rock, who finished sixth in the 2004 Olympics and second to Wariner at the 2005 world championships). I suspect that the U.S., with its abundance of African-American 400m talent, overlooked a few really good 400m white runners in the decades between Larrabee and Wariner. Rock, for example, who won a relay gold medal in 2004, had had to walk on at a Div. III school because no college in America would give him a track scholarship, in contrast to all the West Indian 400m runners who got scholarships at American colleges. Probably, some good white 400m runners were channeled into being mediocre 800m runners, and others quit track and went and did something else.

Of course, a superstar like Wariner got a scholarship, so don’t exaggerate the impact of prejudice — the impact is mostly on the marginal who probably wouldn’t have amounted to all that much in any case. Wariner is much like the fellow whose look and affect he emulates, white rapper Eminem. To be accepted in a black dominated field, a white guy has to be better than the blacks.

Conversely, there is probably a black guy out there struggling to make the mile relay team who could be a terrific 1500m man if anybody could wrap his head around that. On the other hand, though, society usually makes a huge effort to drag blacks into anything perceived as too white, while it’s hard for anything prestigious in our society, such as the 400m Olympic team to be considered “too black.”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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It’s conventional to complain about the ethnocentrism of American television coverage of the Olympics, but northeast Asian countries are much more monomaniacal about focusing on their own nationals. Japanese television, for example, devoted hours of coverage to Japanese athletes washing out in the preliminary rounds of obscure events. My man in Japan writes:

“You may be thinking that Sam Wanjiru’s victory in the marathon was due to his genetics. Wrong. If you had been listening to Japanese TV you would know the truth. He went to school in Japan and it was the training and techniques he acquired in Japan that allowed him to win.

“Fortunately, he speaks Japanese so he was interviewed on TV, the only non-Japanese athlete honored in that way during the last two weeks.”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Olympics, Sports 
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Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, VDARE.com columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.


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