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Japanese teen shatters sprinting myths

Published:Friday | May 3, 2013 | 12:00 AM

By Orville Higgins

An event happened in the track and field world a few days ago that is not generating half the buzz I expected it would. At a meet in Hiroshima recently, a Japanese teenager named Yoshihide Kiryu equalled the junior world record for the 100 metres. He clocked an amazing 10.01 seconds, the same mark set by Trinidad and Tobago's Darrell Brown, who did it way back in 2003.

Darrell Brown was 18 when he did it. Yoshihide is 17 and a half, which makes him not only the joint-fastest teenager ever over 100m, but the fastest 17-year-old of all time.

He did this time in the heats and followed it up by running 10.03 in the final. No teenager has ever put together two such fabulous times over the distance. This youngster also holds the world youth record of 10.19. All this flies in the face of theories some of us have come to accept as gospel.

Following Jamaica's fabulous showing in the last five or so years in global track meets, the belief was taking shape that Jamaicans were born with a greater predisposition for sprinting than anybody else in the world. The theories ranged from the ridiculous to the more ridiculous, from our eating of yellow yams, to the hardships we suffered in the Middle Passage.

The yam theory was particularly silly. Jamaicans eat lots of yams. True. Jamaicans run fast. True. Some are now prepared to put the two together to argue that one is necessarily a contributory factor to the other. Not necessarily so. Jamaicans eat more rice and dumplings than they do yams, and if we want to credit a food group, it is to those areas which we should be looking!

The United States, as a bloc, has produce more truly fast people than Jamaica and, as far as I know, yam eating there is not a national pastime. Some bright person in the USA could well argue that it's because they eat more burgers! The cold, hard fact facing us now is that the two fastest times done by juniors in the 100 metres were done by non-Jamaicans.

That is interesting enough, but Yoshihide's fabulous run has gone some way in disproving another belief. Sprinting, some of us have blindly accepted, is the domain of black people, and we were prepared to believe that black people were born with a greater degree of 'something' that gave us an advantage over other races.

Those who believe this theory point to the lopsided results favouring black athletes in major sprinting events and reason that if all the great sprinters are black, blacks must have a certain genetic advantage over other races.


I have always questioned that and find it a flawed, very basic way of reasoning. That is like arguing that because the Orientals dominate table tennis, the Chinese must be born with an inclinable table tennis gene that makes them better than everybody else! That's clearly nonsense. To find out if blacks have an inbuilt, inherent advantage in sprinting over whites, what we should be doing is racing three-year-olds of all races, when they are largely 'untouched', and less affected, by cultural and social differences. If all the black toddlers start beating all the white toddlers, the theory has merit. Otherwise, we are jumping to wrong conclusions.

We have to look at how people were socialised, what their interests and programmes are, and what the motivation and level of coaching is. We have to look at who their heroes are, what they dream about, in order to understand why they do what they do.

To argue that place of birth has anything to do with it is so dim-witted as to be embarrassing. A baby, if you think about it, is born in a hospital. To say he was born in a 'country' is even a little misleading, if you get my drift. If you were to be blindfolded and put in a hospital, you couldn't tell where in the world you are. Why children born at Cornwall Regional should have a greater disposition for anything than babies born in a hospital in Australia is beyond me.

Yoshihide didn't just win a race, he has shattered myths.

Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host on KLAS FM. Email feedback to