The Guardian: Genes may help, but Caribbean Olympians were nurtured to success


Where does great achievement come from? In the minutes before Bolt, Blake and Weir of Jamaica took 1-2-3 in the 200m, the BBC played a short film which suggested that black athletes won medals because of "west African genes" and the unnatural selection of the "fittest" by plantation slavery. If either of these were sufficient explanation then such centres of new world slavery as Haiti and Brazil would also be athletic superpowers, as would Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, and the Congo from which most slaves came, and the United States itself would not be increasingly pushed into the shade. Genes may help, but only one part of the African diaspora has won disproportionately in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.

The Caribbean islands (including Cuba, which won more than any South American country), won 14 gold medals in London, placing it behind only the US, China, UK, and Russia (with other golds won for France, the UK and the US by Caribbean athletes). With a population of less than 20 million, and a combined GDP lower than Portugal's, the Caribbean dominated both the 100m and 200m in London as in Beijing. Kirani James of Grenada (population 100,000) took the 400m, while the Bahamas defeated the United States, which had 1,000 times its population, in the men's 4x400m metre relay. Other medals came in shooting, javelin, wrestling, taekwondo, and judo. This key to this extraordinary overperformance relative to population, compared even with other communities of African descent, is not genetics but social democratic politics.

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