Controversial Danish research claims to explain African running dominance

LONDON, Nov. 26 (AFP) New research to be revealed on British television Sunday claims black runners have genetic advantages that allow them to run faster and for longer than white athletes.

The study, revealed in a documentary on Channel 4 called The Difference, will fuel the controversial debate about biological advantage in the world of track and field, Britain's Observer newspaper reported Sunday.

Researchers from the Danish Sports Science Institute spent 18 months in the northwestern Kenyan town of Eldoret, capital of the province where the Kalenjin tribe live. Twelve of the world's top 20 distance runners are Kalenjin.

By comparing the running style of Kenyan athletes with Danish runners of similar physique, the researchers found that the Africans' heart rates were extremely slow, even when running over long distances, the Observer said.

That was attributed to the fact that the Kalenjin live on a plateau 7,000 feet (2,130 meters) above sea level, increasing the number of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.

But, the program says, the experts went on to observe that the Africans had "birdlike legs, very long levers which are very, very thin" that enabled them to "bounce and skip" over the ground, with their legs taking off after each footfall far faster than the Europeans.

The Kenyan athletes "flowed through the running motion" compared with the Danes, who "landed heavily and sunk into the ground and almost had to pull themselves forward," the research showed.

The scientists concluded that the Danish runners were "pullers," while the Kenyans were "bouncers," the Observer reported.

The researchers then found that members of the Kalenjin tribe from a particular district called Nandi Hills outperformed other Kenyans, raising the theory that they were born with a special talent.

To test this, the scientists pitted three groups of schoolboys at random one from Denmark, one from Nandi Hills and one from Eldoret who had no athletic training.

The boys were given three months of training and then raced over 10,000 meters. The Nandi Hills boys beat not only the Danish runners, but also the boys from Eldoret.

Two of the Nandi Hills boys then beat one of Denmark's top-ranked distance runners, Thomas Nolan, in a race.

"I could not catch them up, they were getting longer and longer away," Nolan said afterward.

Bengt Saltin, of the Danish institute, told the Observer that the tests proved that the Nandi Hills Kalenjin had a clear genetic advantage over other athletes.

"There are definitely some genes that are special here," he said.

Mike Boit, a Kenyan Commonwealth Games gold medalist in 1978, agreed, saying: "The genetic inheritance is there."

But Kip Keino, a Kenyan who won Olympic gold in 1968 and 1972, condemned the research as racist.

"There's nothing in this world unless you work hard to reach where you are, and so I think running is mental."