Have you ever wondered why certain groups dominate in particular sports, such as running? When it comes to long distance runners, without no doubt we have seen plenty of East Africans, like the Kenyans, win plenty of races. However, what makes them different from everyone else? At the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City at 7900 feet, Kipchoge Keino who was two laps away from finishing the race collapsed on the track because of a gall bladder infection. Keino was due for 6 races that were to be completed in 8 days and instead of resting he decided to run the next race in which he placed silver. After the race he was told that if he raced again that he could die, but once again he decided to run, this time the 1500 meter race with the mindset that if he dies, he’ll die on the track. He starts off last and at the end of the first lap he was in third and in the third lap he took the lead. His opponent, Jim Ryun, believed that Keino could not sustain his kick especially under his serious condition, but Keino placed first.
Now, many westerners have done research on this particular Kenyan phenomenon by looking at various things such as their body shape, their starchy diet, and their ability to walk long distances to and from school. Researchers had to find out what set the Kalenjins, a tribe living in the Rift Valley Province holding a population of 5 million people which only accounts for 0.06% of the world’s population, apart from the rest of the world since most of the Kenyan runners came from this region. Was it their ability to adapt to high altitudes, housing more red blood cells and therefore being more oxygen efficient? Or could it possibly be their thin ankles and slim figures which help for a better dynamic in running? Studies have shown that their ability to persevere through pain is like any other. Teenagers within this culture prepare themselves mentally for the coming of manhood by practicing through acts of pain. When the time of puberty comes, boys must go through rituals of endurance to prove their manliness. These young boys are told to sit still and silently as they are beaten on the bony parts of their ankles, crawling naked through stinging nettle, and other harsh acts that last for weeks. Despite those practices, the most painful of them all would have to be circumcision. If they let out a single peep or make a slight flinch then they are deemed as cowards and are known throughout their community as so. Those who do prosper are reckoned as warriors, given the blessing of reproduction, and are told to run right after the procedure is done. The females have to go through a similar ritual called female genital mutilation so that they do not bear cowardly sons. Despite this harsh ritual, many contest this idea saying that there are other regions that with stand similar traditions, so there may be more factors responsible for their successes.
If you’d like to listen to the podcast yourself, visit http://www.radiolab.org/story/runners/ .
This would have to be one of my top two favorite blogs because I genuinely loved the concept of this radio lab. It was such an interesting topic to me because I never knew anyone questioned why a certain group of athletes are dominant in a sport. The way the radio lab was presented made it easier to write about and it allowed me to go more in depth with the subject of matter.