Black Athletes Matter

Watching the London Games of the IAAF (Intl. Association of Athletics Federation) one could not escape the fact that Black runners of West African (Caribbean and US) origin dominate in sprints and East Africans (Kenyan and Ethiopian) in long distance running. It was astounding and far more than statistically significant when all 12 of the three winning relay teams showed up to collect their medals and they were all black.  This included the men and women’s 4×100 m and 4×400 m relays.  That’s a total of 48 athletes, although 4 of them were Japanese, 4 Polish  and one or two of the GBR team were white (or whitish).

There are two factors, 1. Black runners of West African origin are the fastest in the world and this includes especially Jamaica, although they were not as dominant at these games. This was partly because Usain Bolt in his last appearance had two unexpected losses, he came second in the 100 m race winning the silver medal and he fouled out of the 100 m relay because he sustained a muscle cramp and stopped half-way.  His retirement is timely.  This also happened to one of the Jamaican women in the 100 m relay.  2. In countries with mixed populations, such as the US and Britain, there is a statistically larger proportion of Blacks running than represented in the total population.  All the 4 US relay teams were all Black. This was also true of such countries as Netherlands, Canada (!) and Germany.  The long distance runner for GBR Mohamed Farah, also in his last appearance, won the 10,000 m but came second in the 5,000 m to the Kenyan Edris.

But, as opposed to this, consider the following.  In the 200 m women’s races there was only one white woman out of 10, Dafne Schippers and she won and she came third in the 100 m.  The USA dominated the medals table, taking 30 medals, way more than any other country.  But, which country came second?  Kenya, with 11 medals, because of all the medals they won in the long distance events.

Now some might conclude from the above that I am a racist.  But, I am not.  I am only repeating the actual results and observable facts.  Why are people afraid to talk about this?  Because it’s not politically correct.  But, if I say that the Blacks are superior athletes in many ways, that is based on actual results.  For a more detailed analysis see the book “Taboo:  why Black athletes are better and why we’re afraid to talk about it” by Jon Entine, that considers why Blacks dominate in American football and basketball.  Black athletes certainly matter!

 

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History at the French Open

The 2017 French Open tennis Grand Slam tournament will go down in history.   But, the results on the women’s and men’s sides were totally and completely different.  They could not have been more different.  On the men’s side Rafa Nadal won the French Open for the 10th time!  Yes, this is a remarkable record, probably never to be repeated and seals his reputation as the greatest clay court player in history.   He demolished Stan Wawrinka in three sets, which surprised everyone who saw Stan’s defeat of Andy Murray, who was ranked no 1 in the world.  But, it does represent a continuation of the situation as before.  It’s true that Federer wasn’t there and Djokovic was knocked out earlier, but it was a great run for Nadal, who lost no sets in the whole tournament (7 matches).

But on the women’s side things were the opposite.  Not only weren’t some of the top players there, such as Serena Williams (who is pregnant) and Maria Sharapova, but the top players who were there were all knocked out early on.  An unseeded Latvian named Yelena Ostopenko (no. 49 in the world) took the tournament by storm, the first unseeded player to win at Roland Garros in 35 years.  Never having won any tournament before, she knocked off 4 seeded players to get into the final and there managed to come back from a set and 3-0 down against Simona Halep to win.  It was a great match to watch.  By comparison, although Nadal played his usual masterful self, the men’s final was tame by comparison.

But, the similarity in both finals was that the more aggressive player with the better forehand won.  Ostopenko hit the ball harder and faster than even Andy Murray, and although she had many unforced errors her number of winners was an astounding 55, compared to 10 for Halep.  So on both sides it was a historic tournament this year at the Paris Open, but for very different reasons.

A great match

Those who love sport love the competition and the uncertainty.  Who will win?  Who will come out on top?  There was a great, even a historic, match recently in the sport of snooker.  Those who don’t like sport or don’t like snooker really missed something.  The tournament was the Northern Ireland Open Snooker championship in Belfast.  As usual 32 players were in the first round and they were gradually whittled down in competition. Note that some of the greatest players in the world were there and were beaten.  In the end two known but not leading players came out on top, Mark King and Barry Hawkins.  Both have been professional players for 25 years, King has never won a tournament, although he was in 3 finals, while Hawkins has won three tournaments, all quite recently.  The odds against both of them winning were enormous, but they both played brilliantly and ended up in the final facing each other.

But, it wasn’t just that they were old players and unexpected finalists, the match itself was unique.  The final was the best of 17 games.  It went like this, Hawkins went ahead 5-1, then King won 6 in a row and made it 5-7, then Hawkins caught up to 7-8.  But, the 16th game was amazing.  Usually each game takes 15-20 mins, but this game took over an hour (not a record), and it was very unusual, I have never seen anything like it before. Hawkins went ahead 65 – 0 points, which generally is a winning score.  But, King would not give up, when Hawkins missed a ball instead of conceding he kept playing, when there were only 58 points left on the table.  The only way King could win was to get at least a 7 point foul from his opponent, which is an unheard of amount, since one foul (such as a miss) usually gets only 4 points and two fouls are very unlikely.

When it was down to 3 balls left (the white cue ball, the pink and the black), King, after trying for 15 mins, managed to get both the black and the pink balls close together in one corner and Hawkins made a mistake, he missed the pink and hit the black instead -precisely a 7 point foul.  Then King downed the last two color balls and tied 65 – 65.  In case of a tie, which is rare, the two players each play for a single black ball, and King missed his chance to down the black, which Hawkins then did , and so then they were tied exactly 8 games each, with one more game to go.  At this point they had been playing for nearly 6 hours altogether.

In the 17th game they both made mistakes, but Hawkins failed to make enough points and King won.  What an upset, his first win in 25 years.  In his statement after the win he admitted that he had had a gambling problem, but his wife had stuck by him and his old father had kept faith with him and he had stopped 4 years before and now goes to GA (Gamblers Anonymous) meetings and was now over it.  At the age of 43 he won $100,000, more than he has won in his whole career, and he is suddenly a celebrity.

Black athletes matter

To anyone with eyes that can see there is always one astonishing fact about the Olympics, that Black men are the fastest runners in the world.  All ten of the fastest men in the 100 m sprint in Rio were Black and so were most of the runners who won the other races (200 m, 400 m) etc.  Only the Japanese came second in the 4 x 100 relay, so it is not an exclusive club. Also the winning US women’s sprinters team are all Black and the US basketball team are all Black.

Now is this statement racist?  Of course not, it is stating a fact.  And it is certainly not negative about Black men, on the contrary, Usain Bolt of Jamaica is an incredible runner, having won three gold medals at three consecutive Olympics.  What an athlete!   As a scientist I must believe that there is a rational reason for this striking fact. All the fastest men in the world, from Jamaica, the USA and elsewhere originate in West Africa. Also, there have been a string of such Black atheletes from Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic Games, thru Carl Lewis and Tyson Gay.

Some years ago I came across a book entitled “Taboo: why Black athletes dominate sports and why we are afraid to talk about it” by Jon Entine.  This author did some research into the subject and found that Blacks who originate in West Africa not only have more developed leg muscles in general than European whites, they also have more mitochondia in their muscle cells than whites, making their cellular respiration more efficient and hence they are able to run faster. This is a rational explanation that satisfies me.

But, what about the fact that the dominant  long-distance runners, although almost all Black, do not come from the same countries as the Black sprinters, they come from East and North Africa.  Mostly Ethiopia and Kenya and some from Morocco and Somalia. An explanation for this dominance is possibly that they come from areas with few roads and schools and they literally have to run miles to school and back every day.  This builds up incredible stamina. This explanation for the long distance runners was used to explain the endurance of Jim Thorpe, a native American runner who won the decathlon at the 1912 Olympics.

Also, most of these athletes live in high altitudes with less oxygen and so at lower elevations their muscles work more efficiently.  So for example most of the long distance races at the Olympics were won by athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya.  For example, the British long-distance runner who won the 5,000 and 10,000 m races at the Olympics, Mo Farrah, originates from Somalia. But, it may not be a sufficiently good explanation since the native peoples who live in the heights of the Andes mountains in S. America are not known for their running ability.

The concomitant of this Black dominance of running is the White dominance in swimming.  Among the top 10 fastest swimmers at the Olympics in Rio there was not a single Black person. I remember that an American Football coach was fired once for making what was deemed a racist comment, that Blacks are not good swimmers because of some genertic factor.  I don’t know that that is, but it would seem that upper body musculature is what is need in swimming while lower body musculature is what is needed in running and maybe the races differ sufficiently in these areas to result in differential specialization.  At least the results seem to indicate this.

 

Olympic sportsmanship – Arab style

At the Rio Olympics, all athletes, coaches and officials took the Olympic oath to uphold the values of sportsmanship and not allow personal and national issues to interfere in their performance or judgements.

Soon after that as the Israeli team were about to board a bus at the stadium, a group of Lebanese athletes already aboard protested and their coach barred the way and would not allow the Israelis to board.  To overcome the situation the Brazilian officials tried to break up the Israeli team onto other buses, but the Israeli security prevented that, because they could not protect the team on many buses.  So an extra bus was called in to take the Israelis. Talk about segregation.  Imagine if that had happened with a Black team.

After a very brief investigation the Olympic officials decided that nothing untoward had happened and dismissed the affair.  But, what about their oath, doesn’t it mean anything? Can they in fact then cheat in their performances and be prejudiced in their judgements and get away with it?  In another example, a Saudi judoka refused to participate in a match that might have resulted in her competing with an Israeli in the next round.  And in another case a Lebanese judge gave an Israeli a fault when there was no evident reason for it.  Lastly an Egyptian judoka El Shahaby was booed and warned by the judge when he refused to shake the hand of the Israeli Or Sasson who had just beaten him in a match.

How can you run an Olympic Games under these conditions.  All Arab/Muslim teams should be put on notice that they will be dismissed from the games if they show such racist bias against Israelis.  How different is that from the Russian athletic team not being allowed to participate for drug test cheating?   If they are not warned then we can conclude that the oath in fact means nothing, as we suspected.

Stunning snooker

I have just experienced watching the World Snooker Championship for 2015 from the Crucible Theater in Sheffield, England.   This lasted about 2 weeks and involved all the leading snooker players in the world, although most of them are from the UK.  The outcome of this intense competition was very unexpected.  But, more of that later.

[Snooker is a sport unknown to most Americans and even many Anglos.  For those I will summarize the rules (skip the next two paras if this is boring).  In snooker a player uses a wooden cue to strike a white cue ball to then pot or drop another colored ball into a hole in the side of the table that is covered with a green baize.  But, snooker is much more complex and grander than billiards or pool.  It uses a much larger table, 12 feet by 6 feet, and involves various colored balls.  There are 15 red balls that at the start are in the form of a triangle, set with a frame.   Each red ball has the value of 1 point when potted, and then yellow is 2, brown is 3, green is 4, blue is 5, pink is 6 and black is 7.  These colored balls are placed on specific points in the middle of the table at first.  The players try to pot a red then a color and then red again and a color, until all the reds are removed and then the other colored balls are potted in sequence of their value, yellow to black.

But, the intricacy of the game lies not only in potting the balls, but in how to maneuver the cue ball to line up for potting the next ball.  Good players think 3-5 plays ahead in order to accomplish this and thus score high points.  In order to stop his opponent from scoring a player tries to “snooker” his opponent, by placing the cue ball or the object ball directly behind another ball, so that he cannot hit it directly but must bounce off the side cushions.   If the opponent then misses, as a penalty the player receives 4 points.  Also, if the cue ball is potted by mistake the other player receives a 4 point penalty. So the defensive “safety” aspects of the game are just as important as the attacking or potting side.]

With that background you can understand that snooker is a game of great expertise and talent.  The best players are well known and win hundreds of thousands of pounds per year.  The winner of the World Championship gets a check for GBP 300,000, although this may seem peanuts to professional boxers and tennis players.  Ronnie (“the rocket”) O’Sullivan is the Federer of snooker, he is the best natural snooker player in the world and has won all the main championships multiple times.  He was favorite to win the World Championship again for the sixth time, after 2012-3.   Next to him are three other great players,  the current no. 1 in the world (according to a points scoring scale) and champion in 2014 Mark Selby, then the Australian Neil Robertson, (who is nicknamed “blondie”) whose father owned a snooker hall and won in 2010, and the most talented younger player Judd Trump whose play is audacious, and then others like John Higgins winner in 2011, who is older now, and Ding Junhui, a Chinese player who lives in Sheffield.  Both Robertson and Ding came to the UK as penniless hopefuls and are now millionaires.   But against all odds, none of these favored players won the championship.

What happened that was unexpected was that the top players were defeated by other usually lesser ranked players, Selby, O’Sullivan and Trump were eliminated and the two players who made it to the final were Shaun Murphy, a relatively well-known and ranked player, who won the Championship the first time he played 10 years ago, and Stuart Bingham, who at 39 has been playing as a  professional for 20 years, but until recently never won anything (he won the Australian Open in 2011 and the Shanghai Masters in 2014).  The odds given were 50:1 against him winning.  While Murphy has a smooth and fluid style, Bingham was more consistent and dogged, with occasional flashes of brilliance.

What distinguishes this Championship from other tournaments, that usually are the best of 7 games, is that the first round consists of 19 games (first to 10 wins) and increases up to 35 in the final (best of 18).  This is a huge number of games and is a real test of endurance and psychology.  The 31st game was pivotal, while Murphy led from the beginning, 3-0, 8-4 until Bingham levelled at 9-9, then it continued back and forth until 15-15 and in the 31st game Murphy missed potting a simple yellow ball, and while the usual length of a game was 17 mins, this game took over an hour.  It was a battle royal, with Murphy missing from a snooker 7 times (I have never seen this happen before).  Bingham won that game and went on to win 18-15.  He is now ranked No. 2 in the world and his life has been changed forever.

 

It’s a jungle out there

I am an aficianado of tennis, I watch it religiously, and I have been richly rewarded by the recent Australian Open. I suppose I like tennis because it is an individual clash where survivial is at stake. I watched the two men’s semi-finals, and although Rafa Nadal (Spanish, ranked no. 2) versus Roger Federer (Swiss, #.3) is a fascinating on-going rivalry that Nadal won again, however the 5 hr match between Novak Djokovic (Serbia, #1) and Andy Murray (British, #4) was a more fascinating match, that Djokovic won by a whisker. Then the final between Djokovic and Nadal, that the former won 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 7-5 after nearly 6 hours, was the longest Grand Slam final in history. It went back and forth with each player visibly tiring and then recovering, what an epic struggle.

The women’s game was more open with Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniaki (#1) and Kim Clijsters, last year’s winner, being knocked out so that the final involved the beautiful and talented Russian Maria Sharapova and the Belorussian Victoria Azarenka who was in her first final. Azarenka won 6-3 6-0 with an outstanding performance in less than 1.5 hours, but so slight compared to the men’s game. In watching so many players in so many matches I have come to the conclusion that each player has a different character that is matched by a specific animal:

Serena Williams is like an elephant, large and bossy and does what she likes, sweeping all before her
Novak Djokovic is like an eagle, with great wing span and searching gaze, majestic, powerful and impressive
Maria Sharapova is like a cheetah, fast, sleek and beautiful to behold in motion
Roger Federer is quick like a fox, clever and astute
Rafa Nadal is like a lion, king of all he surveys, with an enormous appetite and a powerful will
Andy Murray is like a wolf, always hungry yet edgy
Caroline Wozniaki is like a gazelle, fast on her feet but fodder for more powerful beasts
Kim Clijsters is like a rhinoceros, large and impermeable
Victoria Azarenka is like a fast filly, beautiful but skittish