Letter: Why black people excel at sport- if they really do

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From Mr Tom Saul

Sir: It is interesting that a man as eminent as Roger Bannister should risk his reputation by advancing unproven scientific theories of slight physical differences to explain the current hegemony of athletes who have an Afro-Caribbean line of descent.

In the 1990s, all successful athletes remodel their bodies so radically in training that any inborn marginal genetic advantage (such as a longer Achilles tendon) must become utterly irrelevant. I believe that Dr Bannister has missed the boat: if anyone wanted to advance a genetic basis for athletic supremacy it would surely have been at least 30 years ago, when amateur athletes had little chance of affecting their natural ability through fanatical training regimes. And of course those born with superior talent, such as Jesse Owens or Bannister himself, tended to win.

Further, Dr Bannister's theories do not fit with the intervening first years of intensively trained athletes, when the somewhat pale Alan Wells was the world's fastest sprinter and Ovett, Coe and Cram dominated the middle-distance. Strangely, I don't recall any scientists then pontificating about the basis of British supremacy.

What I do remember was Roy Castle singing: "If you want to be the best, dedication is what you need."

Yours faithfully,

Tom Saul

London, SE26

14 September