Nature, Nurture and all things Equal

Men's 100m final Usain Bolt

All of the finalists in every men’s Olympic 100 meters from 1984 onwards have been black. Not only that but all have had their family origins  in sub-Saharan West Africa, whose inhabitants are genetically programmed to run fast.

Speed over short distances comes from fast-twitch muscle fibres, which contract twice as fast as slow-twitch. Calf muscles of elite sprinters have 75% fast-twitch. Half milers have 50-50 fast, while long distance runners mostly slow. Although slower they can endure longer, which might explain why Jamaica produces elite sprinters such as Usain Bolt but no long distance stars.

The fastest Jamaican 10,000 meter runner would not have qualified for the London Olympics.

The Sports Gene David EpsteinI was fascinated by the subject matter in the review of a book by David Epstein called “The Sports Gene” in a magazine called Oldies, on our way to Munich. (Oldies !! I know what you are thinking – what was Greg doing reading that? It just looked like the most interesting magazine on the shelf at the airport newsagent. Some fabulous articles in it.)

One of the central themes in the book was: Are we purely a product of our genes or can we shape our destiny by dedication and hard work?

This is a difficult topic as it forces you into areas such as race, genetics, gender in our politically correct world.

There are definite conclusions in the well researched book such as  “sporting prowess is in fact, usually down to your genes plus plenty of practice“.

Michael Shermer in his review of the book in the Wall Street Journal commented  “it was bound to put the cat among the pigeons with the blank-slate crowd who think we can all be equal as long as we equalise environmental inputs such as practice“.

There are things that some people due to race, gender or genetics are just better at and instead of fighting this we should understand it, appreciate it and even embrace it.

Whether it is sport, work or life instead of arguing and getting all riled up about the imbalanced percentages we should try better to understand why this is the case and explore if it is nature causing the differences and nothing else.

The most important thing for me is that if I want to run the 100 metres, become a ballet dance, operate a crane, play the drums, become a nurse, become a politician, or start a new business I can.

Greg Canty is a partner of Fuzion

Fuzion are a Marketing, PR and Graphic Design agency in Ireland with offices in Cork and Dublin

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