Are Kenyan runners beneficiaries of genetic makeup?

Are Kenyan runners beneficiaries of genetic makeup?

By Sportswriter Ben Ochieng

NAIROBI, July 5 (Xinhua) — Every so often, for the last three decades or so, some researchers or the others from the West, have come up with a conclusion that Kenyan runners have a genetic makeup that is superior and enables them to perform better than other nationalities.

Although these many studies have to offer any proof, the idea of Kenyan “speed genes” has taken root in the public consciousness worldwide.

It makes great copy for many papers that disguise racist titillation with the authority of science.

“Best-selling books have been written about it, one was blatant enough to declare that all gold medals in short sprints in future Olympics will be won by people of West African blood,” Kenyan sports scientist Paul Nyamango told Xinhua Thursday.

“In most of these stories, certain very obvious and well known facts tend to be omitted.”

World famous geneticist and writer, Richard Dawkins, as well as Professor Kidds of Yale University have variously written that there is more genetic variation within one African people than in the rest of the world put together.

The reason for this Dawkins reasons is that man evolved in Africa and so people who left to populate other areas, were always few.

So in Africa, we find the shortest people in the world, the tallest, the fastest, and the most durable runners.

According to Nyamango, this unfortunately does not make any sense in the language of popular culture where issues are more black and white.

“The impression the media has created, therefore is that black people are so good at sports because they are similar. Te truth is the exact opposite.”

Something else that has not being mentioned is how already Kenyans are being subjected to a sort of genetic apartheid.

All over the US, quotas have been imposed on Kenyans limiting their participation in road running events.

This sort of baloney might prove to be the beginning of something more worrying when genetic testing becomes more widespread.

“What I find annoying about the goings on is that the running spirit that endures in the highlands of Africa is the perfect statement of the Olympic spirit,” says Daniel Komen, former 5000m world champion.

“It is the one sport that is not dominated by athletes on drugs or athletes who win because they can afford the most expensive of apparatus, or the wealthiest of sponsors. Here, a barefoot runner, who has never left his country, can win gold.”

Many people forget that Roger Bannister, who ran the first four- minute mile – a feat that was considered impossible was badly burned when young and doctors doubted he would ever walk again owing to his twisted and burned muscles.

This handicap ended up being his motivation to run, for how marvelous speed must seem when there is a possibility you might never have any?

Imagine how influential Kenyan Kipchoge Keino’s victories must have seemed to youngsters in his backyard of Rift Valley.

Not since the Mau Mau uprising and Kenya’s independence had Kenya, or a Kenyan attracted so much attention around the world.

“Those early runners were the first world-class Kenyans to beat any competition,” athletics promoted Frank Muriithi says.

“These people came from a place where great success could be a clerical job or a form four certificate. Since those heady days, thousands of mainly Keino’s Kalenjin people have single-handedly pursued the money and fame that running provides.”

He says pride has ensured that Kenya remains indomitable in the 3000m steeplechase.

For many years other Kenyans have also assumed that Kalenjins were somehow born with the ability to run and have failed to give due respect to a culture of hard work, single-minded dedication, and mutual support and encouragement.

It took many years for people to start to acknowledge that what had happened was that a vast infrastructure had been created in the Rift Valley to identify, promote and encourage running talent.

This had no precedent in Africa. Indeed nowhere in the world is there such a high proportion of a population that tries to achieve world class running performance.

This means that people who may have become lawyers, doctors and football players, or even just recreational joggers are now or have at some point trained harder than their compatriots around the world to become world class runners.

In the 1980s, a new class of runners started to emerge outside the Kalenjin juggernaut.

Most of these runners came through army ranks and found they could run just as well as the Kalenjins if they trained hard enough.

“Today, there are enough non-Kalenjin runners on the world circuits to bring some serious doubts to the theories of genetic exclusivity,” says renowned athletic coach Colm O’ Cornell, who also trains 800m world record holder David Rudisha.

“What is less spoken about is the fact that Kenyans and Ethiopians train harder than all other athletes to perform the way they do. What is said less is that the Kenyan public expects nothing less than gold, and the standards of running, even at school level, are world best,” O’ Cornell said.

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