August 15, 2008

UPDATED: The World's Fastest Man - Round One

As I've often mentioned, the most remarkable streak in sports is in the Olympic men's 100 meter dash. The 100m competition typically starts off with about 80 entrants from around the world. After the first round, the top 40 move on to the quarterfinals, then 16 to the semifinals, and ultimately 8 to the finals.

Over the last six Olympics, 1984 through 2004, all 48 finalists have been men of West African descent.

Of the 40 survivors of the 2008 first round, there appear to be 3 East Asians (two from Japan and one from China), six Europeans (Poland, Italy Britain, Slovenia, Spain, and Russia), one or two mulattoes (e.g., Brazil), and around 30 blacks of West African descent, including the representative of Norway.

The Japanese can be pretty fast, as baseball player Ichiro Suzuki shows. Japanese runners made up 3 of the 32 semifinalists in the 1996-2000 Olympics.

Judging by the first round times, I'm assuming this streak will continue for a seventh Olympiad.

If I had to guess the man to break this string, it would be 21-year-old Craig Pickering of Milton Keynes, England. The British beat the Americans to win the gold in the 4x100 meter sprint relay in Athens in 2004, showing that they are a legitimate sprinting power, so Pickering even making the British team for the Olympics is impressive. In the first heat, Pickering ran a solid 10.21 to finish third just behind two West Indian stars, former world record holder Asafa Powell and two-time Olympic finalist Kim Collins. That made him the fastest nonblack in the world on Friday. (To be precise about this, you should adjust for wind velocity, which I haven't done.)

But Pickering's year probably won't be 2008. His goal now is to make the semifinals. He'll likely be more of a threat when he's at his 25-year-old peak at the 2012 Games in front of the hometown crowd in London.

Pickering told the Guardian:

"I only get bothered when I'm asked about the race issue. I don't believe I can't run 100m in 9.99 because I'm white.

Of the 364 times that human beings have run under 10.00 seconds, only once was by somebody not of largely or completely West African descent -- Patrick Johnson of Australia, who is half Irish, half Australian Aborigine. (A Pole and a Japanese have run ten flat.)

"And I don't believe black sprinters think that just because of their colour they're automatically going to run under 10 seconds without working hard. But I don't like these questions because I'm scared of saying something that might offend black people - or even white people." ...

The prospect of both Pickering and Aikines-Aryeetey improving markedly between now and the London Olympics needs to be considered in light of Colin Jackson's recent assertion that it would take a miracle for a British athlete to win gold on the track in 2012. "I actually endorse that," Pickering says, while acknowledging that Jackson's formidable record as a world champion hurdler was also forged under Arnold's coaching. "If you look at the current state of British athletics, it is going to need a small miracle. America can produce 10 great new athletes a year. Nine of them might go to American football but the 10th will probably still beat most European athletes. The Americans won't be quaking that I've run 60m in 6.55. Next year in the indoor world championships they'll probably have three athletes running under 6.50 - so in that sense we might need a miracle."

And yet Pickering's strong displays this year are striking especially because, as he points out, "60m is not my best distance. I'm much more suited to the 100m and I'll be 25 in 2012 - which is the perfect age for a sprinter. So who knows?"

UPDATE: Spoiler Alert

Pickering ran the 17th fastest time in the quarterfinals, 10.18, just missing moving on to the semifinals of 16. The only semifinalist not of West African black descent is a Japanese runner, who had, I believe, the slowest time of all the semifinalists, a few hundredths of a second slower than Pickering, but in an easier heat.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

"But I don't like these questions because I'm scared of saying something that might offend black people - or even white people." ..."

Hard to beleive there is any MSM pundit out there who gives a shit about offending white people. But then he added the word "even" which really gives away the pecking order.

Anonymous said...

Every time I hear it, this reasoning makes my day:

"...just because of their skin color..."

Yes sirree bob. That's the correct way to reason about race: it's all about "skin color." Under the hood, we're all the same.

Almost like cars, isn't it? I mean take a look this "nice" (?!) volkswagen:

And then, take a look at this Maserati:

Sure, the second's "skin color" will look way cooler to ya -- assuming you're not a girl -- but who can say that the latter is superior to the former? Under the hood, they both have the same "content of character." Even if the Maserati turns out to be more equal than the VW, that's probably because it has read many more books. Sure, the VW has more mileage (which it probably does, keeping in mind the fact that it's probably somebody's home and sales office, besides being his vehicle), but that means it's better suited to a head-to-head race.

Yep, I'm sold. I'm picking the VW.


Anonymous said...

What about fast speeds-in the water. Completely different situation.

albertosaurus said...

No one at NBC seems willing to comment that in the dramatic four by 100 medley that the Americans won over the aarogant French that the third leg American swimmer was black.

I can't remember when I last saw a black win a swimming gold medal.

Unknown said...

""And I don't believe black sprinters think that just because of their colour "

OF course, it isn't because of their "colour" - it's because of all the other things that make an elite sprinter. Muscle fibers, reaction time, calf shape, leg length, etc.

Still, you don't expect an active competitor to be objective about these things, do you? Esp. when the objective facts make a case that he is indeed from the inferior race. Give the kid a break.

Anonymous said...

I'm hearing a rumor that Gay's injury may not have healed as well as advertised. My money's on Bolt in the 100.

Regarding fast Caucasians, Valeri Borzov was Olympic champ in both the 100 and 200 in 1972 and Alan Wells of Great Britain won the 100 in 1980. The West boycotted in '80, and in 1972 two of the favorites (both American) missed their bus to the Olympic stadium in Munich, so there were extenuating circumstances in both cases. But it seems to me that these days white men don't even bother to try to run the sprints, just because they figure it's a lost cause. In the past twenty years there have been many more successful white women sprinters than men. (Granted, black women for the most part dominate their sprints as well.) But why this difference?

Anonymous said...

"America can produce 10 great new athletes a year. Nine of them might go to American football but the 10th will probably still beat most European athletes."

He is right on the money with this comment. If you are ignorant about the NFL, google some names like John Capel, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, etc. to see the gigantic pool of sprint talent that ends up there and not on the track. The only reason Jamaica can keep up with the US in the sprints is that they don't send most of their best guys to the NFL.

The other night I was watching the Olympics on TV and switched momentarily to HBO's training camp documentary on the Dallas Cowboys. I saw more athleticism in 10 seconds of footage of "pac man" jones covering Terrell Owens in practice than I saw in hours of Olympic coverage. It was closeup footage in HD and it looked like they had sped up the film! Phelps is just a goofy white guy trying to be a fish. I doubt he can do much of anything on dry land.

Anonymous said...

PS The set of US sprinters is, roughly speaking, the subset of superfast guys in this country who can't cut (change direction). They have straight ahead speed but lack the body control, coordination and balance necessary to play football. Anyone who has all those things is playing football, because that is where the money is.

Anonymous said...

I am Lugash.

Off topic here: Does the whole cover up of the John Edwards/Rhielle Hunter affair seem massively overblown? I could see people pulling out all the stops for a sitting president or a strong presidential nominee. Edwards was close to being second string though, and didn't have the political machine of Obama or Hillary.

I am Lugash.

Anonymous said...

If the one-drop rule went the other way, I'm sure half the sub-10 sprinters would be regarded as white.

Anonymous said...

I noticed a piece on the under-explored Jewish predilection for swimming here -

Anonymous said...

100 medley that the Americans won over the aarogant French that the third leg American swimmer was black.

and the slowest leg and chosen for PC reasons and the commentators kept reminding us he 'earned' his spot

he became the highest paid college athelete in the sport. all because he was black do we see big media bending over backwards to do the same thing for pickering? Of course not, he's sir are a typical neocon.

Anonymous said...

I doubt many Black athletes could perform the way Phelps did.

Which requires years of training, expensive coaching, altitude training (at Colorado Springs facility, I've seen it), and more. A very supportive and middle class + family is needed. Just like coaching in college and the NFL: salaries are low in the first ten years or so, and you move from city to city. Tony Dungee, Lovie Smith, Herm Edwards, Mangini, all have the same story -- their wife ends up supporting the family a lot, in one way or another.

Re the NFL. There's a movement away from pure speed to the ability to catch the ball (in traffic). Corners are good enough now that even a pure speedster like TO or Chad can't make dramatic impacts. Baldinger thinks it requires not two but three speedster receivers to overload the defense. Salary caps mean that's out of reach for most teams.

It's easy to quantify speed, vs. ability to catch the ball in traffic and keep it when hit. But it might be the difference between making the playoffs and not, getting fired or not, and believe me that will grab coaches attention. Particularly if you can buy two receivers for the price of TO that give you the same net production, with half the risk of injury (spread out over two people).

It's notable that big-name receivers rarely make game-winning catches in playoff or Superbowl games. It's more likely the sure-hands lower-depth chart guys that perform. Defenses load up on guys like TO, leaving slower but surer-handed guys more open.

Anonymous said...

Here's Matthew Syed (again) in the Times to reassure us that whilst there may be some genetic component to African success in sprinting and distance running, there's no corresponding disadvantage when it comes to intelligence.

Anonymous said...

Which event has the most level playing field, in the sense that if a European, West African, East African, Chinese, Indian competed against each other it would be difficult to favor anyone due to their background?

Anonymous said...

It was the 4 x 100 free relay, not the medley relay, that Cullen Jones was on. And in fact he did earn his spot. The usual procedure is to use the #4, 5, 6, and 7swimmers in the heats and then use whichever one of them had the fastest split in the evening. (The first three spots were reserved for the two guys who qualified in the individual 100 free, Lezak and Weber-Gale, and for Phelps, who had gone a 47.92 for a flat start 100 free in the heats at Olympic Trials to guarantee himself a spot on the relay.) Jones went a 47.61 in the morning, which was the fastest leg, so he got to swim in the evening finals. As far as his $2 million contract with Nike goes, that was obviously due to his race. No white swimmer at his level of accomplishment would have gotten that sort of contract. Jason Lezak, by the way, seems to have some of the signs of steroid abuse. He's tremendously muscular, achieved success at a relatively late age, and now -- at age 33 -- just another huge drop to have the race of his life.

Truth said...

"If the one-drop rule went the other way, I'm sure half the sub-10 sprinters would be regarded as white."

Yeah, but then so would the guy your sister got disowned for.

"Which event has the most level playing field..."

I would vote for the 800. It would not surprise me if the winner looked like Usain Bolt, Ichiro Suzuki, or Steve Prefontaine.

Unknown said...

Very likely that Jones is about as typical a black as Borzov is as a white.

As Steve has often pointed out, there are 6 million US blacks smarter than the average US white. We're talking about averages here. And about the *proportions* at the very top.

There may be a few fast whites; say one out of a billion as compared to 100,000 out of a billion for blacks.

Anonymous said...

What about fast speeds-in the water. Completely different situation.

The fact that practically zero percent of human evolutionary history has to do with swim-based activities (at least for speed) might have something to do with the fact that whites are globally competitive in swimming events. Whites I would suspect have won most medals worldwide in swimming (and some of that is related to wealth), but if whites have any biological advantages over other races in the water, it's purely by accident (random chance) or default (other evolutionary pressures gave other groups disadvantages in the water - again, by pure chance).

You could slap people silly all day long with the data, but few people will ever come to believe that race is about more than just "skin color." Sixty years ago it was a known and accepted fact, but today it's unmentionable.

albertosaurus said...

Of course not, he's sir are a typical neocon.

What? Where did that come from?

I just mentioned that NBC seemed to avoid noticing that one of the gold medal heroes in the free relay (not medly relay as incorrectly said) was black. Since he was nearly the only black guy in the building this seemed newsworthy to me.

You might expect a human interest segment on the hero American black swimmer. But no, they assidously avoided calling attention to him in any way. He was Ellison's Invisible Man .

I imagine they are simply afraid to mention race at all. Even when it would redound to the credit of blacks.

It reminds me of the announcers in boxing who never say, "Jones the boxer in the black skin" even when both fighters are wearing the same color trunks and one fighter is white. Everybody in the audience is distinguishing the fighters by skin color but the announcers who are aware of all sorts of technical minutia seem to be unable to discern skin color.

Martin Luther King's dream of color blindness seems to have taken hold in sports announcing.

Unknown said...

Halfbreed: You right right, Cullen Jones earned his place on the relay team. But he did nearly cost the team the gold medal. He inherited the lead from Webber-Gale, swam the slowest lap, and gave Lezak a huge deficit to make up. I'm not sure what position it was - third or fourth. I don't agree w/you that Lezak shows classic signs of steroid abuse - other than this lap, where he performed above his usual level, what has he won?

OTOH, I hate to say this, but I think Darah's dopin'. She's better at 41 than she was at 21, or 31.

That doesn't happen without a little "boost."

Anonymous said...


A critical thing to understand about this: in these events, as in top-tier performance in math and science, you're way, way, way off in the tails of the distribution. Nobody who has any business running in any Olympic race is remotely normal, as a human, a member of their racial group, a member of their sex, a citizen of their country, etc. This is true in the same sense that nobody whose brain is remotely normal, as a human, a member of their racial group, their sex, etc., has any chance at all of winning a Fields medal, or becoming the best chess player in the world, or any number of other things like that.

A lot of nonsense is spread by people who forget this, and try to use (for example) the normal distribution to estimate behavior way the hell out in the tails of the distribution.

Anonymous said...

2 quick points/observations/questions:

1) I'm not so sure that football takes all that much sprinting talent. Football is about running 40 yards or less, as well as being able to start, stop, change direction, and accelerate quickly. Running 100m or 200m is very different. I remember attending a Penn Relays where Rocket Ismael tried to run in the men's olympic development 100m and disgraced himself. He killed the field out of the blocks, was leading at 40m, losing at 60m and finished dead last by a wide margin at 100m. Football and track "speed" are different talents and even the 100m is a lot about muscle endurance. Sprinters are all decelerating at about 60m and the ones that pull ahead at the end are really just those with the best muscle endurance that are decelerating more slowly.

2) Re Swimmers and doping: Does anyone else notice how much longer Phelp's face and jaw (i.e., distance under his eyes) are than the the distance from his eyes to the top of his head. (In most people, these distances are about the same.) I noticed this was the case for many of the other younger swimmers too, whereas the older swimmers (like, say, Piersol and Lezak) seem to have normal proportions. Does anyone with some expertise in endocrinology know if these elongated lower jaws and faces is a sign of HGH abuse during the developmental years? Would giving kids HGH help them develope those lone limbs and giant paddle hands and feet that seem to be so useful to swimmers? What got me thinking about this was an interview in which Phelp's mother mentioned that she didn't want her son to have to commit to competitive swimming at such a young age, but said that his coach told her, "If we're going to do this, we have to start now?" This made me wonder if he was just refering to Phelp's rigorous training program or also (inadvertently) to the use of body altering drugs.

Anonymous said...

re: sprints and football, Pickering knows more about it than you do.

Here's a simple exercise. Look at the top 10 US sprinters and find out what their pr's were in high school. Then look at what happened to other people with similar pr's at the same age. You will find most of them went the football scholarship route. Those are the people who stopped working seriously at track but who had just as much potential as the ones who eventually made the US team. You will find again and again that the state champions / record holders in big fast states like TX, CA, FL, etc. are more likely to have become footballers than (exclusively) sprinters.

Rocket is just one example. There are other NFL players who would be better at the 100m (perhaps not as fast as him in the 40) who gave up track. Also, if Ismael had dedicated himself to track, he could have improved his performance -- you compete how you train, and he was trained for football.

Unknown said...

none of the above:

I understood what you are saying; I expressed my thoughts inexactly.

There are at least two statistical reasons why the extreme ratios of ability are not typical of the ratio at the means:

1. If the means are offset then the ratios at large numbers of standard deviations are increasingly large due to the exponential fall-off of the normal distribution.

2. Often, as in male/female IQ, the standard errors are different even when the means are the same. This also leads to large ratios.

Even if blacks dominate the sprints consistent with one or the other of such statistical descriptions there will still be the occasional fast white runner consistent statistically with a relatively higher ratio of eligible whites.

Perhaps Borzov was just such an outlier. I must say, however, that I seem to remember him being very ill at one time and that it was attributed in some news account to the use of steroids.

As a side note, the decline of American blacks in the sprints may be due to the increasingly good training available to Caribbean and African blacks.

Anonymous said...

Pickering was responsible for Britain's loss in the 4X100m final, when he flubbed the baton handover