White men caN jump? Kind of. But they still can’t run. Sort of.

Posted on August 22, 2016

(Last Updated On: August 22, 2016)

A white person hasn’t won the olympic 100 meters since 1980, and that win has a big asterisk next to it. It was in Moscow where 65 countries boycotted, significantly lessening the competition. Allan Wells, who won the 1980 race with a time of 10.25, would not have even medaled in the olympics before or after. Therefore, the last time a white person won a 100 meters without something of this nature would be 1972.

Even more telling is a white person has not even appeared in the 100 meter final since 1980! Screw winning it, they can’t even be in the top eight.

Someone in the know may be going,

“Yeah, yeah. We already know this. Black people have longer achilles tendons. More fast twitch fibers, narrower waists, shorter torsos; longer limbs. They’re built for speed. This is why they dominate other things like football and basketball, and jumping oriented events.”

However, the world record in the triple jump belongs to a white dude, Jonathan Edwards.

In the 2012 games, a white guy won the long jump:

Rutherford medaled in Rio as well.

A white guy won the high jump in 2012 too. Of the five medal finishers (there was a tie), three were white.

In Rio, two of the top three finishers were white, with a white winning gold.

Jumping is an exaggerated stride of sprinting. All those qualities we mentioned, narrow waists, high calves / long achilles, fast twitch muscle fibers, they’re going to impact jumping too. Yet white people are getting by pretty damn well in jumping events.

To really knock the fast twitch fiber theory out, whites do very well in olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, javelin, shot put, all the throwing events really. Including throwing a baseball. Those are about as fast twitch fiber as it gets.

Again, whites can’t even get into the final heat for the 100 meters, yet they’re winning other speed oriented events! And we can’t just say it’s running. That there must be something much different about running than jumping. Look at those jumps again. There is a good run up for all of them. You need to have some speed going into, say, a long jump. You can’t jog your way into the sand.

The 100 meters is…an endurance event?

Some splits of notable 100 meter races:

notable 100 meter sprint performances splits

The numbers are how long it took to go that particular 10 meter interval.

Notice how every runner hits their top speed around 60 meters. Either the 50-60m split, or the 60-70 meter. After that though, the numbers start going back up. Every runner is then slowing down. A hundred meter race thus goes something like,

  • 0-60 meters => accelerating
  • 60-70 meters => holding top speed
  • 70-100 meters => trying to prevent slowing down / speed endurance

White people also do well running short distances

Wes Welker could shake anybody as a slot receiver for years. He wasn’t going to run a fly pattern for an eighty yard touchdown, but he could get open in tight spaces. Julian Edelman, same story.

(There is a list of these guys. Wayne Chrebet, Danny Amendola, Ricky Proehl, etc.)

Some may remember Dante Hall. He was a fast dude in the NFL. Kick and punt returner (where you put your fastest players). Here’s a no name white free agent linebacker keeping up with him,

Kevin Curtis, a former receiver, ran a 4.35, 40 yard dash.

A few years ago Ryan Swope ran a 4.34.

Matt Jones is a combine hall of famer. At 6’6″, 237lbs, he ran a 4.37 forty in 2005. He also jumped 39.5 inches.

For context, Adrian Peterson ran 4.40.

-> Yes, many in the NFL are faster than Adrian Peterson. Many, many have run a faster 40, including white people. Yet Adrian Peterson thinks he could beat Usain Bolt.

While we’re on jumping again, a white dude jumped the highest in the 2015 NBA combine.

Patrick Connaughton Vertical with steps GIF

37.5 with no run up; 44 inch with run up. We’ll come back to the importance of the run up.

The lack of whites in the NBA is interesting though. Whites do quite well in volleyball, which is just as (more?) jump oriented than basketball. This is where culture may be a significant factor.

-> I went to a high school seemingly a third black, a third white, a third hispanic. I was buddies with many black guys there, as well as on my college football team. My experience was sport wise they were very interested in, and really only in, football, basketball, track. Things like hockey or lacrosse, while physiologically extremely similar to basketball, seems not an interest at all. (There are of course more reasons for this than solely internal desire.) Similar to how the hispanics were really only interested in soccer. So I don’t think natural talent is the main, or at least not the only, reason. People of different backgrounds have different interests. Can see Charles Barkley talk about this.

The 2014 world champion in the 60 meters was Richard Kilty:

It’s not like Richard Kilty is a 60 meter specialist. He just still can’t make a 100 meter final. He couldn’t even make the 2016 olympic team!

Morne Nagel, a South African sprinter, ran a 6.48 in 60 meters. A tad faster than Kilty’s run above.

Back to endurance

What’s another event whites get their asses kicked in? The marathon. As best I can tell from here, Ryan Hall is the fastest white marathoner of all-time. Clocking in the…164th best time.

Basically everything from 100 meters to 26.2 miles will be dominated by blacks. Not necessarily to the same degree as the 100 meters, a white guy medaled in the 800 meters in Rio (in a slow race), but whites aren’t winning the races or setting world records in them.

As we went over, something like achilles length or some particular body structure(s) doesn’t seem to tell the whole picture. To harp on fast twitch fibers again, if anything, as endurance becomes a factor -as fast twitch fibers become less of a factor- blacks dominate more.

The world record in the 60 meters is 6.39 seconds by Maurice Greene.

  • Richard Kilty is only 1.5% slower than that.
  • Morne Nagel is 1.4% slower.

Yes, 1.5% is a lot in these types of things, but Maurice Greene was also a world record holder in the 100 meters at 9.79 seconds.

  • Kilty best 100 meters is 10.01 seconds. 2.2% slower.
  • Nagel’s best 100 meters was 10.13 seconds; 3.4% slower.

The difference has increased.

Usain Bolt has the 100 meter world record at 9.58 seconds.

  • Kilty is 4.2% slower
  • Nagel is 5.4% slower

“The other issue with looking at 60 meters is some of the best sprinters don’t do that distance. The percentage would probably be higher for these white guys if the best sprinters did it / a white wouldn’t be in the final for 60 meters either.”

Splits from the 2009 100 meter world championship, where Bolt set the 100 meter world record.

2009 world championship 100 meter splits

(Looks like Darvis Patton got hurt.)

Whether it be the finals or the semis, someone like Kilty would be a factor at 60 meters. If the race were only 60 meters, based on his best time, he’d at least be in the finals. In fact, he’d be in 6th place at 60 meters in this finals. Daniel Bailey ran 6.48, essentially what Kilty and Nagel have run the 60 meters in. Yet Bailey turned a 9.93. A good tenth and two faster than Kilty and Nagel’s best 100 meter times.

As the event gets longer, as endurance becomes a factor, Kilty, Nagel, being white, falters.


A progression into black dominance

From short to long-

  • Shot put
  • High jump
  • Long jump
  • Triple jump
  • 40 yard dash
  • 60 meters
  • 100 meters
  • 200 meters
  • 1500 meters
  • 5000 meters
  • 10,000 meters
  • Half marathon
  • Marathon

Looking at the best white in each respective event (I did this by eye balling all time lists, I could have missed somebody),

  • Randy Barnes has the shot put record.
  • Patrik Sjoberg is 1.2% off the black high jump record
  • Aleksandr Menkov 4.4% from the black long jump record
  • Jonathan Edwards has the triple jump record
  • 40 yard dash- Ryan Swope is 2.3% slower than the black record
  • 60- Morne Nagel 1.4% slower than the black record
  • 100- Christophe Lemaitre 3.4% slower than the black record
  • 200- Pietro Mennea 2.7% slower than black record.
  • 400- Jeremy Wariner 1% slower than black record.
  • 800- Seb Coe 0.8% slower than black record.
  • 1500- Nick Willis 1.7% slower than black record.
  • 3000- Mark Carroll 2.2% slower than black record.
  • 5000- Dieter Baumann 2.2% slower than black record.
  • 10,000- Galen Rupp 3% than black record.
  • Half marathon- Zane Robertson 2.3% slower than black record.
  • Marathon- Ryan Hall is 2.9% slower than the black marathon record

Some house cleaning-

You may have noticed Usain Bolt’s 60 meter split above is much faster than the world record, but that time is not used as the world record reference. The two main reasons:

  • Indoor tracks are not outdoor tracks
  • There is a wall you run into at the end of a 60 meter race that you don’t worry about in a 100 meters

Outdoor tracks may very well be made differently in terms of the surface. An outdoor world championship is going to be more interested in a sprinter friendly surface to help set a world record. Everybody cares about the fastest person on earth…in 100 meters. Nobody but the niche sprinting world cares about the fastest 60 meters; many more care about the 100 meters than the 10,000 meters.

Outdoor tracks are no doubt made better. That perhaps no matter what a sprinter tries to do, psychologically, they can’t go all out those last few meters because they know they have to slow down for that wall at the end of 60 meters.

At the end of the day, we’re trying to make these comparisons as similar as we can, so we go with 60 meter race to 60 meter race.

Next, the gist of the above is, from 0 to 60 meters, the difference in performance seems to be a fairly steady 0 to ~2% (average 1.55%). 100 meters and up, it’s more like 2 to 3% (average 2.22%).

Picking on specific events- the long jump does throw a wrench into this, with that 4.4% difference. That may be an abberration, as that world record by Mike Powell seems to be an anomaly. Powell himself never jumped within 2.8% of that mark. Carl Lewis jumped against Powell that day. Maybe it was the competition against one another, but neither of them ever jumped as far as that day. Maybe something funky was going on with the track / wind / measurements. If we look at the first jump which doesn’t have an A (assisted) or * from this list, that’d put Menkov within 2.6%. Still higher than all the others in the 0 to 60 meter group, but more in line.

The long jump overall is a weird event culturally. The faster and harder you can hit that jump, the better. The trade off though is the faster you are, the less likely you are to do the event. If you can hit that 40 meter or so run up with elite speed, why wouldn’t you go focus on the sprints instead? Where there is a hell of a lot more money.

So on one end we could say,

“The difference might actually be bigger if Usain Bolt / more top sprinters did the long jump. Because nobody is going to hit that run up with his type of speed. Really throwing a wrench in the mix.”

But on the other end we could say,

“Up until only five years ago, nearly the entire history of sprinting, there was an allure of being the first white person to break 10 seconds in the 100 meters. And there is still an allure of being a white person in the 100 meter olympic final. If you’re a fast white dude, why bother with the long jump?”

I wouldn’t be surprised if this took as many whites out of the event as blacks, if not more. I doubt Greg Rutherford, long jump medalist, is doing as well financially as Christophe Lemaitre, first white under 100 meters.

For the 400, 800 and 1500 meters, events where whites do quite well, they’re less relevant popularity wise than all the other endurance events. A limited talent pool may be the explanation. This part of the 400 stands out:

400 meter list 1 400 meter list 2 400 meter list 3 400 meter list 4

That’s an unusual amount of Americans. It’s like not like USA is anywhere near the best middle distance runners, and we’ve shown how other countries, like Jamaica, can sprint right with us. You don’t see anything like above in the 100, 200, 800, or any other running event. Yet USA is randomly dominating the 400 meters. Odd.

Wariner (400m) and Coe (800m), who are unusually close to the world record compared to other endurance events, may also genuinely be exceptions training wise. Wariner had the same coach as former world record holder Michael Johnson, Clyde Hart. Wariner significantly fell off after leaving Hart. Hart may be doing something others aren’t. Coe’s dad is famous in the distance world for writing the book on middle distance training, and his dad believed in only coaching one person. So he never coached anybody else. Those like the Kenyans may not have caught up yet, making up for things with talent. (Pharmaceuticals could be part of this. One would imagine Coe in Great Britain had access to a different world drug wise than the current Kenyans.)

Eh, but then we’d expect Coe to be closer to the 1500 meter world record. It could be the Kenyans, while one of them has the world record, just haven’t gotten that into the 800 meters. Or 1500 meters. (At least yet. They seem to be trickling into more and more events of late.) Once getting up to the 3000 is when they and the Ethiopians start dominating the all time lists. More so as the distances get longer. Likely following the money the other direction- 10ks, half marathons, and marathons. Much more lucrative distances. People care about 10ks, half and full marathons all year, every year. People care about 800, 1500, 3000 meters once every four, if that.

-> To my American readers, remember nobody cares about the mile like we do. It’s not even an olympic event!

Anyways, with such a small sample size, some oddities are expected. For the most part, we can see whites –as individuals– are neck and neck with blacks, until endurance, 100 meters, sets in. A 0-2% difference and you’re in the mix. A 2-3% difference and you’re irrelevant.

Why do whites become irrelevant?

It’s important to reemphasize here whites seem perfectly capable of exerting the amount of force blacks can.

A common next line of thinking is “Blacks can display their force better.” In other words, they’re more efficient. Now, as a group, that’s true. While someone like Richard Kilty exists, you don’t see many other whites running next to him. While there is that list above, if you look through the all time bests in each event, you’ll see picking out a white is like picking out Where’s Waldo?

But there are a shitload of white people in the world. There are a shitload of non-black people. Notice above I specifically said “black world record” over and over. This emphasizes it’s not white vs black. It’s the whole world vs black! And with all those people odds are you’re going to get some who have high calves, small ankles, narrow waists, short torsos, etc. This is Ryan Hall.

Credit: LA Times.

Credit: LA Times.

Those are some long, skinny legs!

Credit: New Yorker.

Credit: New Yorker.

Ryan Hall 3

Compared to Mo Farah, an elite long distance runner in the 10,000 meters:

Mo Farah no shirt

His training partner Galen Rupp:

Galen Rupp short torso

That sure ain’t a long torso!

Galen Rupp with Mo Farah

It’s not like anything jumps out at you here. In fact, throwing a baseball or javelin, or hitting a volleyball really hard is going to be positively impacted by thin limbs, at least upper body wise, like a small wrist. Again, whites excel at this.

-> In The Sports Gene this type of stuff is thoroughly looked at. One example being wingspan relative to height in NBA players. Blacks tend to have a longer wingspan for their height, and a greater ratio than whites. However, there are whites who are as long as blacks and longer than the average black NBA player. This is what we mean by “odds are, such and such structure is out there in a white.”

Here’s my theory: the most obvious difference between those who left Africa longer ago (whites) and those who left it more recently / are still living there (blacks), is skin color. The most obvious difference between a lighter skinned person and a darker skinned one is how they handle the sun, when it’s strong, when it’s hot out.

Physics tells us the more energy something produces, the more heat it releases. Think about your laptop or phone. Text messaging versus not using it, and it gets a bit hotter. Watching Youtube videos vs texting, and it gets even hotter. Watching whatever insane porn you watch, and it gets even hotter.

Not only that, but the longer you do this, the more heat released. If you’ve ever had your phone in a really hot place, you may notice the phone gets hot too, but that’s all. Keep the phone there for a while though and you may have seen your phone turn itself off to save itself.

The body does a version of this too. It won’t necessarily turn itself off, but it will lessen energy output in order to prevent heat overload. Think what happens when it’s hot out. You feel like doing nothing. That’s so you don’t add any heat.

-> For a great look at this, check out Ross Tucker’s series on fatigue. In that link he even cites a study showing blacks thermoregulate differently than whites in the heat (they’re better), although unfortunately the study wasn’t controlled for body weight, where blacks were smaller. Less weight => better handle the heat. One reason Lebron has issues with cramping when nobody else does.

My guess is something about having a more recent ancestry from Africa, or darker skin, helps heat dissipation. Subsequently, in events where the body is going to start to get hot and or stay hot, we see more of a difference. In events where it’s basically all out very quickly, where you don’t have to worry about pacing or holding power output, the difference is less, or not there.

While structure was covered earlier, it’s hard to completely separate structure from heat dissipation. If you want a more in depth look at this, check this post out, detailing how those from closer to the equator tend to have longer / skinnier limbs, because it helps with handling heat. There’s less volume to their body, but as much, if not more, surface area.

As groups, this is the obvious answer for differences between whites and blacks. But for those white dudes who run / jump very well, until the 60 meter mark? Like why can Jonathan Edwards jump better than any black dude ever in the triple jump, but he only ran a 10.48 100 meters? Why can Richard Kilty win the world championships in the 60 meters but not even make the olympics, where no event is shorter than 100 meters? Why does Irina Privalova have the 60 meter world record, yet the 34th fastest 100 meters? Why is her 60 meter time faster than Marion Jones, yet Jones was faster to 100 meters? Same is true comparing Privalova to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Why was Marion Jones able to get the third fastest 100 meter time, yet many whites have long jumped further than her?

Drag Equation with exponent circled

This is the equation for drag. (The force of air you have to overcome when running.) Notice the circled exponent. How wide you are matters, how dense the air is matters, but how fast you’re going matters most.

We have a nice, plausible explanation for something like the 100 meters then. Remember, the 60 meters we’re just getting to top speed. The 100 meters we have to hold that top speed. The average speed over a 100 meter dash is going to be higher than a 60 meter. Every little bit more average speed, and we have exponentially more drag to deal with.

Maybe it could still be something like a white person has thicker ankles. After all,

1) Ignoring Privalova / Jones, blacks are still faster to 60 meters and 40 yards, they still jump better in the long jump, the difference is just less.

2) We’re talking small differences here. An average ankle size is something like 8.75 inches in circumferance. A 1.5% difference would be 8.62 inches. For these people, average ankle size is going to be too big. Meaning the absolute difference will then be even smaller. While we looked at pictures earlier, this isn’t something we’d be able to eye ball. Whites may get very, very close to black ankle sizes, but never all the way.

However, we go back to how whites throw very well, and we’re literally talking billions of non-black people out there. It’s hard to imagine none get the same physical dimensions as elite black runners. That whites would get it at the upper body but never the lower.

Say that’s the case though. Then we could say it’s just that up until a 60 meter sprint, whites can pretty much get by with that. Get by meaning be competitive on the world stage, have plenty of speed for sports like football / basketball / soccer, not necessarily have the world record. However, every little bit more the average speed of the race increases, and we exponentially increase the drag they have to deal with. That ~1% smaller ankle matters more and more.

The other angle is the faster you go the more energy you need to convert, which means more heat. Maybe a white person can generate close to that power, they can handle that heat for hundreths of a second, and then the body says “Nope. We’re not killing (literally) ourselves here.”

Jonathan Edwards? A long jumper? A high jumper? Weightlifter? Shot putter? They’re not worried about overheating. By the time their body would sound the alarm, the event’s already over.

What’s also possible here, Ross Tucker goes over this in the link given earlier, is that non-blacks shut things down in prevention of reaching the alarm. It’s not that they hit a point of too much heat then shut it down, it’s they prevent too much heat to begin with. They can’t hit the same speeds because the body won’t allow that level of output -heat generation- period.

For something like the marathon, we have our compounding factor. ~1% lesser ankle size over thousands of steps adds up. For heat dissipation, it’s not your phone is in the blazing heat, it’s how long it’s dealing with moderate heat. How long can it get by with that little fan? Speed / power isn’t so much the factor as is sustained, heightened, metabolism. There could very well be something blacks have an advantage with here too. I lean towards this realm as achilles tendon length, fast twitch fibers, limb lengths, i.e. structure, are huge factors in something as brief as a high jump, where whites do very well.

-> It’s one of the few all time lists it’s not like Where’s Waldo? Four whites are within 1.6% of the world record. You could make an argument it’s even less. The world record at 2.45 entailed an act of god, as Sotomayor hit the hell out of this bar without it falling.

He seemed to hit 2.44 too! If we put him at 2.43, he’d only be one centimeter, 0.4%, above a white.

If we were only comparing say, a vertical jump to a running jump, then we could say “Ah ha, achilles length matters. Because in a vertical jump you don’t get to bounce out of your achilles the same way.” But that’s largely refuted by the high jump marks. I bet there are enough whites / non-blacks in the gene pool who have the structure…but they’re still white. Meaning something else about them still doesn’t handle the sun / heat as well as a darker skinned person, causing the drop off.

There is some research citing darker skinned people, like Asians and blacks, are less hairy than whites. Less hair = less heat. Are some whites missing out by not being bodily bald when competing? Does it matter if you’re perfectly shaven if you still have the follicles under the skin?

Does increased melanin aid evaporation? (I lean towards something like this. Something where the thing(s) which impact skin color also end up impacting heat dissipation ability.)

We may never get a good explanation for this. Studying racial differences isn’t popular territory for many researchers. Plus, again, we’re talking 0-3% differences. From a research perspective, we’re likely going to need a huge sample to properly detect this difference and call it statistically significant. Trying to measure what could be a 0.5% difference in ankle circumference, a 0.5% difference in achilles tendon length, and a 0.5% difference in heat dissipation, all combined. A huge sample of elite athletes, which is an oxymoron.

Lack of blacks in other endurance events

“Then why aren’t Kenyans dominating cycling?” We know with swimming a long torso is advantageous. That’s going to knock out the blacks who do great at running. We also know, at least in America, something like 70% of blacks can’t swim. (Can’t does not mean incapable. A black woman just won a gold medal swimming in Rio.) While we expect whites to dominate swimming for the same reasons we expect blacks to dominate running, the difference is not proportional. Plenty of whites are running at the olympics. Plenty of blacks are not swimming. This is a cultural issue. Particularly in America. Learning to swim is a luxury not everyone has the same access to. America is still, sadly, a different experience based on your skin color.

For cycling, something like the Tour De France garners plenty of money; heat dissipation is obviously a factor. This is almost assuredly cultural as well. Similar to swimming, having a bike, particularly a racing bike, is a luxury. To another degree, it’s like asking why blacks don’t dominate ultra marathons. They don’t care to.

Coming up next- Why can white women run and jump better than white men? (why do drugs help you run faster?). 

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Posted in: Sports