December 3, 2007

Cross Country Running Demographics

A friend who is running in a marathon in a couple of months asked about the demographics of people who are nuts enough to be amateur marathon enthusiasts. Frustrated by the lack of published ethnic demographics, I followed up his request by looking at the boys who had recorded the 300 fastest times in the nation in 2006 in high school cross country running (5000 meters distance) because there is a remarkable amount of information on the Web on high school runners.

These top 300 times last year were earned by 185 different individuals. I looked up pictures or biographies of anybody whose first or last name sounded less white than, say, "Cameron Quackenbush." (I counted one red-headed guy named De'Sean Turner as half black and half white.) This methodology probably overstates the non-Hispanic white percentage by a point or two by missing people with minority mothers or name-changers.

Here are, roughly the demographics weighted by number of times in the top 300:

Non-Hispanic White 82%
East African 9%
Spanish Surname 5%
Black American 2%
American Indian 1%
East Asian 0.7%
South Asian 0.3%

Clearly, the East Africans are wildly over-represented (just as they are on Olympic medal stands), since they must be well under 1% of the US population. They are as common as all other minorities combined! If you subtract the East Africans out, you get whites at 90%, whereas they make up less than 60% of the teenagers in America today. That's rather interesting for what it might say about willingness to put in enormous amounts of effort. (Cross country requires minimal cost, other than shoes, so it's wide open to the less affluent, as the remarkable success of East Africans in it shows.)

This method of analysis could be unfair to people of West African descent (like most African Americans) because 5000 meters may just be too far for their aerobic capacity. (Here's a graph I made up in 1997 showing that men of West African descent weren't competitive at the world class level in anything longer than 1500 meters).

There is, however, a fellow named Mikel Thomas, who looks like a conventional African-American, who had three times in the top 50 last year. (His online signature includes an Ethiopian flag, however, so he might be Ethiopian on his father's side -- Michael and Thomas are old Biblical names, and Ethiopia has been Christian for 1700 years. Or he could just like Ethiopian runners.)

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

I live in a diverse neighborhood, and I'm always surprised when I see anybody jogging (usually with inappropriate gear, like wearing a denim jacket). Jogging is for people who sit at work.

Anonymous said...

When walking to the subway after work I often see members of New York University's cross country teams (identifiable by their T-shirts) running past me. They use the street next to my workplace as an access route from campus to the running path along the Hudson River. A substantial percentage of them - close to half of the males and more than half of the females - are East Asian. NYU has a high percentage of Asians in its overall student body, but it's not nearly that high.

Incidentally, while NYU is scarcely a big sports school its cross country teams are highly rated.


Anonymous said...

white runners went 1-2 at the NCAA cross country championship and 1-2-3 at the US olympic trials for marathon.

"mercenary" east africans got 3rd at NCAAs and 4th at olympic trials.

Anonymous said...

To put it bluntly, distance running is mostly a smart kid sport at the high school level. It doesn't require a lot of hand-eye coordination, but rewards determination and self-discipline and gets you the varsity letter that makes you look well-rounded to college admissions boards. And for bright kids with mile a minute brains, the repetitive, exhausting nature of distance running helps calm the mind and help these kids get a little centering in their lives.

Anonymous said...

"--if I could meet anyone who would it be?
Haile Gebrsellassie"

I think it's safe to say he's Ethiopian.

"--favorite dinner meal?
red beans and rice"

What? Not foul mudammas? (But maybe he saw "Silence of the Lambs" and now has an aversion to fava beans.)

Steve Sailer said...

Well, I'd like to meet Haile Gebresellaise. I rented a movie about him back in the 1990s. He's sometimes discussed as a future president of Ethiopia.

Jonathan said...

In response to Jody:

White runners did go 1-2 at the Division I NCAA men's cross country championships. But the top 25 finishers were almost half East African or of East African descent.

3rd place went to Lopez Lomong, originally from southern Sudan, who has lived with an American foster family since 2001.

Finishers number 6, 7, 9, 12, 14, 18, 19, 21, and 23 were Kenyans. 24th place was a Ugandan. 25th was a United States citizen originally from Morocco.

Khalid Khannouchi, who finished 4th in the United States Olympic Marathon trials, is also originally from Morocco and is now an American citizen.

BlArthurHu said...

Steve, you left out the Asians for comment. Less than 1% is way under-represented. Spending more time hitting the books and less on athletics I would guess. Arthur Hu

Anonymous said...

I came here from the link on Malcom Gladwell's blog and I'm going to throw some harsh criticism your way. Quit bringing up facts and data (and even datum); try to think more freakanomically. Your F&D are downers and keep getting in the way of having "fun" theories.

demafreakagraphocally yours,