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Br J Sports Med 34:391-394 doi:10.1136/bjsm.34.5.391
  • Education and debate

East African running dominance: what is behind it?

  1. Bruce Hamilton
  1. Sports Medicine, Australian Institute of Sport, Leverrier Crescent, Bruce, ACT 2617, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: B Hamilton email: registrar{at}hughessportsmed.com.au
  • Accepted 20 April 2000

Take home message

The periodic domination of middle and long distance running by different regions of the world is not a new phenomenon. Researchers are yet to confirm a genetic or physiological advantage in being a middle or long distance runner of East African origin, and it is most likely that the reasons for their success are many. The belief that East African success is due to uncontrollable stable factors will perpetuate the current level of domination.

Introduction

East African middle and long distance runners are currently the dominant force in athletics. As well as dominating the track events at the last several Olympic Games, they are also dominant on the American and European road racing circuit and world cross country events. Although many physiological and anatomical factors have been proposed to explain East African dominance, research into these variables has not yet revealed any definitive advantage for the African. Traditional social and cultural factors have often been described as “advantageous”, and, although these factors may be to a greater or lesser extent involved in the East African dominance, it is probable that both the African and caucasian psychology or “mindset” are now additional important factors in maintaining that dominance. Like Scandinavian distance runners in the early 20th century, who won 28 of 36 possible Olympic medals over 5000 and 10 000 m, the East Africans have developed an aura of invincibility, both in their own minds and the minds of their caucasian opponents. Caucasians world wide are searching for proof of the physical advantage of the East Africans while handing them on a platter a psychological advantage which, until removed, will perpetuate the current state.

Possible reasons for East African dominance

Many factors have been described to explain both the dominance of East African middle and long distance runners and West African sprinters. Many of these …

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