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Myth or Fact: Why African Americans Excel in Short Races in World Championships


The dominance of African Americans in short races in international competitions is clear. Since 1968, the 100m world record has been held by black athletes. Since 1912, only 10 out of 38 non-black athletes have been world record holders. 

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A lot of debates and analyses have been made over why black athletes dominate short races, and while it remains an ongoing discussion, a few things explain the puzzle.

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Center of Gravity

The shape of your body is a big determinant of how well you run short races like the 100-meter dash. Science shows that black people have a high center of gravity (CoG) due to longer limbs compared to white people of the same height. 

For the lack of that, white and Asian people have a longer torso that makes them better swimmers. Having a higher center of gravity is a performance determinant because it affects how fast you can move your legs. Someone with a higher CoG hits the ground faster than a lower CoG.

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The debate over genes is one that some people struggle to accept. African-American runners are said to have a genetic advantage, dubbed ‘speed genes’ over their white competitors. 

Factors like a fast twitch fiber allow them to generate more force and thus their explosiveness in high-intensity sports like short races. That said, some dispute the presence of a genetic advantage because they argue that it takes away from their hard work and talent. They even deem it to be racist. 

That said, a former professor of human physiology at the University of Copenhagen’s Muscle Research Centre in Denmark, Bengt Saltin, acknowledged that while training improves muscle performance, your genetic predisposition gives you a higher chance of becoming an elite sprinter.

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Socioeconomic Factors

Beyond the arguments made by sports science about genetic advantages, there’s an argument to be made about accessibility and financial muscles. 

A lot of African Americans tend to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and thus aren’t able to afford sports that need more investment. 

As such, some use their athletic abilities to escape poverty; hence, they rarely have the luxury to pick and choose. You only need a pair of shoes to run. Compare that to golf. 

You need a golf club, pay a membership fee, and enter into golf events, which are costly to play. A lot of people find this argument more practical in explaining the concentration of African Americans in athletics, more than the other two factors. 

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Myth or Fact

African Americans excel at short races. Statistics demonstrate that. However, different arguments, as outlined above, attract praise and criticism in equal measure. Science enthusiasts will keep looking into the physiological aspects that make different people good in certain sports. 

Others will make it more practical and discuss ambition and life’s circumstances. That said, success is a cocktail of different things, and what makes African Americans good is a debate that’ll continue. 

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