BBC Two’s Black Britain Olympics Special ‘The Faster Race’ asked the question: Do black athletes have a genetic advantage? What makes a champion; hard work or natural talent? Put another way, is there a faster race? Are black athletes born winners or is it simply how hard they work?

With the sprint and middle-distance events at the Sydney Olympics once again set to be dominated by black athletes, The Faster Race – a programme scripted and filmed by an all-black production team – asked whether black athletes possess a genetic advantage.

Scientists believe there are three reasons West African athletes have an advantage in the sprint events.

Firstly, they have more muscle and less fat. Secondly, they have higher levels of testosterone. Finally, they have more fast twitch fibres in their muscles than their white counterparts.

Roger Bannister, an Olympic gold medallist and the first man to break the four-minute mile barrier, was a respected neurosurgeon.

But even he was still pilloried as a racist when he said: “Black sprinters and black athletes in general all seem to have certain natural anatomical advantages.”

British expatriate, Jean-Phillippe Rushton, caused controversy in 1989 when he claimed he had scientific evidence of an inherited link between brain size, intelligence and race.
“Blacks have a genetic edge when it comes to sports,” he claimed.

Efficient stride

“They have a narrower pelvis which makes for a more efficient stride. They have more testosterone which gives them more explosive energy. But these come at a price and the price is a smaller brain.

“The testosterone also comes at a cost because it makes the children more restless in school and perhaps prone to crime, so you can’t have everything.”

It is such views as Rushton’s that make this such a controversial issue to debate.
Geoff Small, who produced ‘The Faster Race’, certainly believes racism has a part to play.
“My worry is that young black people are not aware that they are being told the only place they will be allowed to spectacularly succeed in, is the sporting arena,” he said.

“What we are trying to do with this programme is get to the heart of what is really going on with these issues.

“The question is, what is black anyway, who defines what race is and does it even exist apart from in our own minds?”

Reporter Kurt Barling will be conducting a live forum on the issues raised in ‘The Faster Race’ on BBC Sport Online
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