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Are Black People Better at Running?


Some believe Africans are better at running because of their genetic makeup. Others claim they excel because running is at the heart of their culture.

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Black athletes dominate the marathons and short races alike, fueling the belief that they are naturally superior. From the 100m races to the 42.2 km marathons, athletes of African heritage win medals almost every time. 

And this doesn’t mean that other people don’t. But still the question lingers on.

What contributes to the success of Black athletes? Does race affect athletic ability?

Here are the answers.

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Why Black Athletes May be Better at Running

Running Is a Culture in Regions That Consistently Produce Great Runners

Eliud Kipchoge on his way to break the 2-hour barrier. Image source: Twitter licence BY-SA

Basketball is part of African American culture. Long-distance running is a feature of Ethiopia and Kenya while short races are characteristic of mostly Jamaica, West Africa, and the US.

These regions have been producing winning runners in these categories for as long as most of us can remember. Some African athletes adopted foreign citizenship to run for other countries. But you’ll still see their countries of origin producing new gold medalists.

One explanation for the excellence of African athletes is that running is their culture, a way of life that starts at a young age. Running has become part of their life, and young people grow up wanting to emulate their seniors’ achievements. That could explain why there is never a shortage of runners.

Look at basketball in the US, it’s a popular sport among African Americans. It’s a skill that attracts lots of admiration and gives black people a sense of pride. The same applies to short races.

In Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia have dominated long-distance running for many years. And athletes from all over the world travel to train in Kenya’s rift valley region, an area that consistently produces runners.

Countries Like Kenya and Ethiopia Have Suitable Terrain

Kerio Valley in Kenya. Image source: Wikimedia licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0

African runners have terrains that create a good environment for the growth of running talent. Long distance marathoners come from hilly regions that they scale often.

Additionally, these areas are high-altitude and have lower atmospheric pressure. As a result, natives may have more red blood cells to help them maintain a constant supply of oxygen to various body parts.

When these athletes compete in low-altitude areas, they’ll have more red blood cells than their competitors, which could give them an edge.

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In fact, international and local trainers have set up training centers in such areas.

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The Culture of Running Barefoot in Some African Countries Helps Produce Better Runners

Traditionally, those in rural areas ran barefoot to school or anywhere else. And it’s not because they lack the means, but it’s normal.

Running barefoot encourages efficient running patterns. Your strides are compact and short under your torso. That gait balances your body’s center of gravity more effectively, typically resulting in a greater knee bend, and helping your joints cope with the hammering better.

Barefoot runners also typically land on the ball of their feet rather than the heel, which improves mobility efficiency.

International Trainers Are Concentrated in Areas That Traditionally Produce Excellent Runners

Because of continuously producing great runners, international trainers and spotters have a keen interest in regions seen to have performing sprinters and runners. This ensures that such regions continue producing star athletes.

With tons of athletes out there, we’ve put up this short list of black runners. They show black athletic superiority on the track and have multiple world records:

People Also Read: 7 Greatest Black Athletes of All Time

Is Black Athletic Superiority a Fact or Myth?

Usain Bolt after winning a 100m race. Image source: Twitter licence BY-SA

Why black people dominate the running races has been in the public discussion. A study on swimming vs athletics points out that Africans have a higher muscle density and have an advantage of 1.5% in running.

Here’s the downside: Higher muscle density makes them less efficient swimmers. In fact, whites have a 1.5 percent advantage over them in swimming.

Another study assumes that most Africans have more stamina and speed than Europeans.

But these are not facts. We have only one human species and many researches have failed to explain the assumption that biological differences exist among certain populations.  

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As of now, there are no conclusive scientific findings on what exactly makes most Black people better at running. But the records year in, year out are a testimony of black athletic superiority.

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Beatrice Maina
Beatrice Maina
Beatrice Maina is a proficient writer and content manager who crafts high-quality, optimized articles that are helpful to readers. She listens to your brand voice and incorporates it into her writing. With a rich background in SEO writing and keyword research, she understands the need to write content that search engines and readers will love. Thus, she emphasizes the need for articles to meet readers' needs and are Google-friendly.


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